From the Farm to the Fork

 

 

The local vegetable and fruit supply chain was under the spotlight last month. On 12 October, environmental NGO Friends of the Earth Malta organised a round-table at Vincent’s Eco-Farm at Żebbiegħ and published Agro-Katina, the result of its research tracking the food we consume, from apricots to zucchini. The report can be downloaded at https://foemalta.org/wp-content/uploads/AgroKatina-Report.pdf .

Maltese agriculture is characterised by small farm holdings, with three quarters of registered farmers working an area less than one hectare. With a hectare covering ten thousand square metres, this means that most local agricultural holdings are slightly less than nine tumoli in size.

Agriculture contributes a miniscule amount to the GDP – less than two per cent – but it is, however, essential to ensure the preservation of the rural characteristics of the Maltese islands.

Even though we are far from self-sufficient, agriculture can increase our self-reliance, thereby reducing our vulnerability to outside shocks.

It has been observed in the report that specific localities are linked to specific products: Rabat and Dingli are linked with onions, pumpkin with the northern agricultural region – primarily Mosta, Mġarr and Mellieħa – with cauliflowers being linked to Siġġiewi and Żebbuġ.

The report refers to the introduction in the local market of long, dark-skinned zucchini contrasting with the local round (or long) varieties of a lighter shade. As consumers overcame their hesitancy to a new product introduced to the market, local farmers started experimenting with growing it locally and, to their surprise, discovered that this variety (commonly found in Sicily and Southern Italy) had the advantage of being well adapted to the local climate.

Seasonality is still an important factor in agricultural planning, even though this is gradually on the decline primarily as a result of the competition from imported products which are available throughout the year. This seasonality is rightfully observed in the various village celebrations focusing on the availability of specific products: Manikata (pumpkins) and Mgarr (strawberries) readily come to mind. They educate consumers and contribute to a better understanding and appreciation of agriculture’s contribution to the country.

The report briefly refers to the “local vs imported produce” issue. It is emphasised that it only takes around 24 hours for locally grown fruit and vegetables to travel from the farm to the fork, hence ensuring that they are fresh, ripe and in season. This is not only reflected in a fresh appearance but also in an unmistakable advantage in terms of natural flavour and nutritional value, compared to imported produce.

Agriculture is the main user of water in Malta. It is also the major polluter of our water table. A study carried out in 2008 by the British Geological Survey on the nitrate contamination in Malta’s groundwater, commissioned by the then Malta Resources Authority, concluded that groundwater nitrate had been stable for the last 30-40 years. Notwithstanding, this has resulted in the contraction of the agricultural sector in the same timeframe.

The challenges facing agriculture in the immediate future are various. Climate change and the water crisis top the list. The changes in weather patterns will undoubtedly be a major headache. This will necessarily impact the viability of some crops, maybe bringing about changes to the season/s during which these crops are available. It will also possibly create the conditions for new crops.

The average age of the farmer is now around 55 – and this is not just in Malta, but across the EU. There is a growing awareness that we may be close to losing our farming community, in fact the impact of this loss is already being felt as it is fairly obvious that there are substantially fewer people protecting our countryside on a day to day basis.

The distance between the farm and the fork is increasing.

This is not good news.

published in the Malta Independent on Sunday: 12 November 2017

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L-aħħar ċans? Għandek ċans!

time is running out

Mela l-Kaċċaturi San Umbertu qalu li l-każ tal-ispanjulett li ntlaqat minn żewġ tiri u li waqa’ fil-ground tal-Kulleġġ St Edward’s kien tort ta’żewġt itfal li kellhom senter misruq.

Issa sirna nafu li ser jittella’  l-Qorti persuna ta’ 25 sena li għandu liċenzja tal-kaċċa. Fil-fatt ittella’ żgħażugħ ta’ 21 sena skond kif tirrapporta it-Times online.

Ovvjament il-Kaċċaturi San Umbertu kienu qed jippruvaw jgħattu x-xemx bl-għarbiel. Għax jidher li ma kienu jafu xejn, imma fl-istess ħin riedu jgħidu li min spara ma kienx kaċċatur.

Issa ilna għaddejjin kważi ġimgħatejn b’numru ta’ każi ta’ illegalitajiet li nqabdu u oħrajn li ma nqabdux.

Fosthom insibu s-segwenti :

15 t’April:   Daqquqa maqtula fil-Manikata; kaċċatur min-Naxxar immultat €2,500. qal li ħasibha gamiema;

16 t’April:  Venewwa milqut f’Ħal-Far; kaċċatur jeħel tlett xhur ħabs;

22 t’April:  Daqquqa milquta misjuba fil-Miżieb;

24 t’April:  Żagħżugħ  milqut miċ-ċomb sparat minn kaċċatur f’Pembroke; il-kaċċatur jagħtieh daqqa ta’ ħatra; il-kaċċatur jittella l-Qorti;

25 t’April: il-CABS xhieda ta’ sparar fuq spanjulett ħdejn l-ajruport;

25 t’ April: il-CABS xhieda (b’filmat) ta’ kaċċatur jispara wara l-curfew;

25 t’April:  il-CABS isibu daqquqa feruta oħra moħbija fil-Miżieb;

26 t’April:  gawwi isfar b’feriti biċ-ċomb misjub f’Pembroke;

27 t’April: Spanjulett ferut jaqa’ fil-ground tal-Kulleġġ St Edwards School, il-Birgu;

B’żieda ma dan kien hemm total ta’ 63 każ ta’ użu ta’ tapes b’tisfir irrekordajat tal-għasafar (illegal bird callers) li ġew identifikati mill-CABS.

Dan kellu jkun l-aħħar cans.

MEPA: from bad to worse

mistra-monster

Government acting through MEPA is playing to the interests of property developers and speculators. This was stated by a group of environmental NGOs who decided to act together in voicing their concern. The eNGOs are Din l-Art Ħelwa, Flimkien għal Ambjent Aħjar, Birdlife Malta, Friends of the Earth Malta, Moviment Graffiti, Greenhouse Malta, Malta Organic Agricutural Movement, Nature Trust Malta and Ramblers’ Association.

There is nothing new in stating that government is in cahoots with property developers and speculatiors. The new element is that it is much more obvious that it ever was. MEPA in fact is functioning worse than it ever did in its 21 year history.

And we have seen nothing yet. It will get worse .

The recent approval of the redevelopment of the Mistra Village site is a case in point.  In addition to its being a blot on the landscape the approved project consisting of 774 residential units [yes its seven hundred and seventy four] as well as 1,800 square metres of retail area [including a supermarket] spread in 6 rectangual blocks of various heights up to and including 13 floors.  The traffic load on an area already bursting at the seams will be enormous.

In fact, Transport Malta  had initially objected to the project as it was considered that the situation would inevitably develop from bad to worse.

Transport Malta has however had second thoughts and withdrew its objections.  FAA is on record as commenting that “In dropping its objection, Transport Malta insults local residents by claiming that the traffic situation is already so bad that adding heavy construction vehicles and another 1,500 cars to the area will not make a difference.”

This signifies that Transport Malta will now go back to its archives and reconsider the development of the TEN-T road network in the area. All the options have already been discussed and all of them will create even more probelms.  One proposal signifies cutting through the Miżieb aquifer. Other proposals pose serious threats to Manikata, the agricultural community in L-Imbordin as well as being a threat to the Simar Nature Reserve.

This is what MEPA’s decisions are leading to.  It will get worse soon.

Having nine NGOs voicing their concern together on the above and more is a good step. Their protest in Valletta’s streets on the 30th November 2013 deserves everyone’s support.

I will be there.