In recent weeks, an escalation of events has unfolded as farmers voiced their discontent about their jobs. On Friday, 2nd February, local farmers and breeders took to the streets, protesting and expressing concerns about both local intricacies and broader European Union aspects. An immediate positive aspect emerged as various news portals and organisations featured and responded to the protest, underscoring the impact left by a large crowd of local producers, a notable occurrence especially for a small island like Malta. This collective demonstration served as a wake-up call for Maltese citizens, who, in various capacities, act as consumers and beneficiaries of the local agricultural landscape.
In the wake of the farmers' protest, MHRA stands in solidarity with agricultural concerns, expressing worry about the EU's handling of farmers' needs. President Tony Zahra highlights the pivotal role of farmers in tourism and the economy, urging ongoing government support and active EU engagement. Emphasising the link between a robust agricultural sector and the well-being of the Maltese population, MHRA calls for increased recognition of farmers' needs and genuine support to overcome obstacles. The association remains committed to fostering a sustainable and prosperous agricultural sector for the benefit of all stakeholders.
In a report authored by MaYA Founder, Jeanette Borg, the challenges faced by European farmers, including those in Malta, during the recent protests were outlined. The article highlighted grievances such as soaring production costs, dissatisfaction with EU policies favouring larger farms, and concerns over the impact of unrealistic environmental agendas. The protests reflected a broader discontent among farmers, fuelled by the influx of cheap imports and compounded by climate change-induced challenges. While some concessions were made, tensions persist, underscoring the complexities of balancing agricultural sustainability with economic viability. The report also delved into the nuances of the Maltese protest, emphasising issues like import competition, communication barriers for livestock breeders, and local land tenure challenges. The outcomes varied, highlighting the imperative for collective action to address challenges and foster a sustainable food system.
A day before the local protest, former Prime Minister Joseph Muscat made a statement asserting that the EU's predominant agricultural budget allocation should not hinder the Maltese from purchasing food at competitive prices from outside the EU. He argued against restricting access to cheaper alternatives, particularly from non-EU countries, as this could potentially contribute to a cost-of-living problem for the Maltese population. However, this perspective stands in stark contrast with experts who highlight the multifaceted challenges faced by farmers, including soaring production costs, EU policies favouring larger farms, and concerns over unrealistic environmental agendas, suggesting a more nuanced understanding of the complex issues at play.
In an interview with Times of Malta, Malcolm Borg, President of Għaqda Bdiewa Attivi, outlined the farmers' protest against various EU policies. Farmers express dissatisfaction with EU trade deals that remove trade barriers for agricultural products from non-EU countries with laxer regulations, making it difficult for EU farmers to compete. They also oppose EU state aid rules preventing financial assistance for damage compensation or increased expenses. Additionally, farmers protest against EU incentives to leave fields uncultivated, arguing it hampers productivity. The introduction of more environmentally friendly farming policies, without adequate support and gradual implementation, is criticised by farmers for its potential detrimental impact on food production in Malta and Europe. Għaqda Bdiewa Attivi emphasises the need for sensitivity to the agricultural sector and calls for economic alternatives and mitigation measures before enforcing aggressive environmental legislation.
Nationalist Party (PN) candidate Peter Agius accuses agriculture Minister Anton Refalo of "anti-democratic" behaviour, alleging that farmers are being discouraged from protesting against EU policies. Agius accuses Refalo of attempting to intimidate farmers and emphasises the government's responsibility to support local farmers amid unaddressed challenges. In reaction, PN MP Toni Bezzina criticises the government's attempt to suppress farmers' rights and calls for support instead of intimidation during a time when local agriculture faces various threats.
Michael Caruana, a seasoned potato farmer who participated in Malta's demonstration, protested against EU rules that he believes unfairly disadvantage European farmers while benefitting those outside the EU. Caruana highlights the impact of free trade deals, removing barriers for non-EU products, and stricter EU regulations on European farmers, resulting in increased costs and decreased farm production. He expresses concern over the use of potentially harmful chemicals in agricultural products grown outside the EU, which can still be sold in Europe. Caruana, advocating for the protection of farmers' livelihoods, participated in the protest to signal the importance of sustaining the agricultural sector for future generations, including his young daughter whom he hopes will continue the family business.
Aerial view captures the magnitude of the local farmers' protest in Malta.