Earlier in August the President of the European Parliament, Dr. Roberta Metsola, requested a meeting with Administrators from the MaYA Foundation to discuss the current situation of agriculture in Malta, with a special focus on young people. Various topics were tackled and the Foundation later presented the President with a concise list (see below) of the most urgent matters according to the administration and the organisation's supporters.
1. Lack of resources as an organisation
The MaYA Foundation has been established for almost 10 years and despite several attempts to obtain assistance, it has received no financial support from local institutions to reach its objectives. Financial contributions and secondments have not been accessible as they should be. With no part/full-time human resources on the payroll it will be challenging to keep defending the interests of youth involved in the agriculture sector. Adopting a project-based approach is an option to ensure sustainability, however this would change the way the organisation works.
2. Lack of European representation
The MaYA Foundation is currently not part of CEJA (the European umbrella organisation of young farmers). When the Foundation tried to become a member, a series of circumstances have derailed MaYA to do so. The Ministry of Agriculture failed to give the necessary support for MaYA to obtain the status it deserves.
3. Divide and rule mentality harnessed by local authorities
Cooperation, or the lack of it, is a big issue here in Malta. Apart from the island mentality which prevails in the Mediterranean, local authorities are continuing to apply divide and rule strategies. Organisations can create synergy between them, but this is almost impossible due to lack of resources and lack of willingness to reach the same goals. We want collaboration to happen and have succeeded on various fronts, however a change in mentality at a local policy level will help to create success stories with collaboration at their core.
4. Land grab in Malta making access to land for young farmers increasingly difficult
Apart from the meagre 1% of forest land, agricultural land is the only green lung left in Malta. Land use issues have been creating havoc in the local agriculture over the past few years. Tenureship problems need to be linked to food security. Legitimate producers need to be given priority to cultivate the land since we are losing our soils to rampant urban development and recreational use. Farmers have been waiting for the Maltese government to issue a white paper for months on end.
5. Lack of vision from stakeholders and coordination between government entities
The accession of Malta in the EU brought about significant investment in the attempt to improve agriculture and rural areas. Millions have been spent on farms and processing plants but short sightedness remains the most common reason why long term sustainability has not been achieved. This, together with lack of cooperation and synergy amongst stakeholders make resources such as land and young people dwindle at a fast rate (below EU average, and lowest rate in EU when it comes to female farm managers).
6. Addressing food chain management and food fraud
Local producers, be it crops or livestock, are victims of alleged food fraud. The setting up of a local taskforce has been a long awaited and fought-for step in the right direction, but a wide mechanism supported by the EU needs to be implemented to truly safeguard producers and consumers since it is eroding the whole food chain.
7. ’Marketing’ as a main action to bank on to help the local sector move forward
Consumers have for long complained that local produce lacks grading and necessary branding to facilitate choosing the preferred product. Producers are resisting this change and rely on traditional methods to sell produce. As an organisation we wish to enable producers to make the necessary changes that can affect the whole system through tailor-made training which would be practical enough for farmers to adopt with varying degrees of investment.
8. Costs of production increased at an alarming rate bringing agricultural holdings even closer to unviability
Resources such as land availability and accessibility to good quality water remain the most salient issues. Insularity and double insularity, in Malta and Gozo respectively are positioning local farmers in a less favourable situation when compared to European farmers in mainland Europe. Recent spikes in energy prices have greatly affected the sector; the livestock sector in particular. Improvements in energy generation and distribution to farms need to happen to avoid individual farmers to carry the burden associated with their disadvantaged location on their own. Being connected to the grid is a separate investment which some farmers cannot afford. More funds need to be directed to carbon neutral projects.
9. Adding value to genuine local products and species
More effort needs to be done to add value and respect to local products. Loosing the production of such products is resulting in the loss of cultural identity and loss of agricultural biodiversity. The introduction of many hybrids for production purposes has also resulted in genetic introgression. EU quality labels are a sore point and to date Malta is the only Member state with no registered food quality label. The Foundation has been actively voicing its concerns to achieve quality labels while maintaining authenticity of such products. Organic farming for instance, restricts producers to cultivate in natural soil. Blanket rules do not allow producers who use soil-less cultures and hydroponics to certify their products with the EU quality label. This is limiting since surface area for local producers is very limited compared to other Member states.
10. Access to EAFRD became more complicated for project-based measures
In 2017, the annual amount per young farmer payment beneficiary for Malta was the lowest amongst EU members states - 22 Euro/beneficiary. The Foundation would like to invest in training for young farmers on various aspects which are currently not being addressed by local curricula. European funds have been an opportunity for local agriculture. Producers have invested a lot on modernising farms. Bureaucracy seems to be cutting off the small producers from obtaining funds since managing small projects without the assistance of external EU funds managers has become practically impossible. We believe that investing in training addressing knowledge gaps is crucial to equip the future generations with the necessary insight and skills.