After the agricultural fair has ended

The onslaught on agricultural land is continuous. It is unfortunately many a time abated by land use planning operatives. It would be an understatement to emphasise that they should know better.

Among the countless examples faced on a continuous basis I can list the following: the over-development of road infrastructure, quarries, boatyards, solar farms and fireworks factories proposed in rural areas and in lieu of agricultural land. Added to these examples one can add the craze of changing the use of agricultural land into picnic or barbeque areas. This creation of recreational areas is squeezing out agriculture! All this would not happen without the complicity of the Planning Authority and those appointed to lead it.

The agricultural fair organised last week exposed another aspect: the anguish of the farming community. A discussion organised within the precincts of the grounds of the agricultural fair focused on food security. The spiralling cost of imported animal feed fuelled by the Russian invasion of Ukraine as well as international business pressures are adding to the problems of those involved in animal husbandry.

Farmers are being pushed out of the land they have been tilling at an increasing rate. No one in his right senses would dare invest in the modernisation of an agricultural holding in such a climate. The banks, on the other hand, emphasised the farmers who took part in the discussion, are not forthcoming with loans to facilitate matters, most probably as they consider the risks involved too high.

In the meantime, eviction of farmers from the land they have tilled for generations continues unabated as government takes too long to come up with a reform of the agricultural lease legal setup.

Government has, for all intents and purposes, abandoned the agricultural community. In addition, it has repeatedly carved agricultural land into new or widened roads. The irrigated agricultural land at Attard had to make way for the so-called Central Link. Shortly more agricultural land on the outskirts of  Qormi will make way for improvements to the Mrieħel bypass project.  Add this to the planned havoc continuously emanating from the Planning Authority and you can easily understand what the agricultural community has to bear.

It is indeed ironic that a government which boasts of a programme which is intended to create more open spaces is at the same time determined to ruin more natural open spaces on the outskirts of our towns and villages.

It is clear that government has taken a basic political decision: cars have a priority over agriculture. This decision is clearly manifested in the manner of operation of Infrastructure Malta which is gobbling up extensive agricultural land which stands in the way of its projects. It is further manifested in the absolute silence of the Agricultural Ministry when it is faced with this behaviour. The agricultural minister is apparently more interested in our heritage which leaves him little time to focus on the needs of agriculture and the farmers who depend on it for their livelihood.

Given the ever-increasing population on these islands it was always very clear that local agriculture could never, on its own, suffice to cater for our needs. Supplementing local agricultural produce with imported produce should be done with care as there is always a danger that the local market can be flooded with low priced goods which make the life of our farmers more miserable than it already is!

The organisation of the agricultural fair was a good idea. It must however be supplemented with a heavy dose of good faith which is missing in the attitudes of the holders of political office in the Ministry of Agriculture through the rest of the year, that is when there is no agricultural fair!

published on the Malta Independent on Sunday : 29 May 2022

Cry of the Earth, Cry of the Poor

 laudato_si_    Cry of the Earth


This is the title of Leonardo Boff’s seminal work on the inextricable link between social justice and environmental degradation, originally published in 1995.  Earlier, during the 1972 UN Human Environment Conference in Stockholm, it was also the rallying cry of India’s Prime Minister  Indira Gandhi who, on behalf of the developing world, forcefully insisted that poverty was inextricably linked with environmental degradation.  In Stockholm Mrs Gandhi had emphasised that “the environment cannot be improved in conditions of poverty  –  how can we speak to those who live in villages and slums about keeping the oceans, the rivers and the air clean, when their own lives are contaminated at the source?”

This is also the underlying theme of the encyclical Laudato Sì published by Pope Francis last June. It is not just a seasonal Latin American flavour at Vatican City.  The earth’s tears are continuously manifested in different ways depending on the manner in which she is maltreated .

Environmental degradation has a considerable impact on the quality of life of  us all except, that is, for the quality of life of  the select few who pocket the profits by appropriating for themselves advantages (economic or otherwise) and lumping the negative impacts on the rest.

Environmental degradation is an instrument of social injustice. Consequently, enhancing the protection of the environment is also essential to restore social justice.

The water table is subject to continuous daylight robbery: over the years it has been depleted by both authorised and unauthorised water extraction.  What is left is contaminated as a result of the impact of fertilisers as well as surface water runoff from the animal husbandry industry. Theft and acute mismanagement  are the tools used in the creation of this injustice.

The Malta Freeport has been quite successful over the years in contributing to economic growth and job creation. The price for this has, however, been paid by Birżebbuġa residents – primarily through being subjected to continuous noise pollution on a 24/7 basis. Various residential units in the area closest to the Freeport Terminal are vacant and have been so for a considerable time. A noise report commissioned as a result of the conditions of the Terminal’s environmental permit will be concluded shortly. Hopefully, the implementation of its conclusions will start the reversal of the Freeport’s negative impacts on its neighbours.

The Freeport, together with various fuel storage outlets, the Delimara Power Station (including the floating gas storage facility which will soon be a permanent feature) as well as fish-farms have together definitely converted Marsaxlokk Bay into an industrial port. As a result of various incidents during 2015, spills in Marsaxlokk Bay signify that Pretty Bay risks losing its title permanently.   Fortunately, Birżebbuġa residents have been spared additional impact originating from minor ship and oil-rig repairs after they reacted vociferously to a decision by the MEPA Board to permit such work at the Freeport Terminal.

Public Transport has made minor improvements but nowhere near what is required. It is essential that Malta’s congested roads are mopped up of the excessive number of cars. Improving the road infrastructure will just make it easier for more cars to roam about in our roads, thereby increasing the scale of the problem.  The major consequences are a reduced ease of access and the deterioration air quality.

We will soon be in a position to assess the impact of two other major projects: a business hub at the Malta International Airport as well as a car-racing track with various ancillary facilities. The former will take up land at the airport carpark but will have considerable impact on the surrounding villages. The car-racing track may take up as much as 110 hectares of land outside the development zone and have a considerable impact on both nature and local residents in the areas close to where it will be developed.

The list of environmental impacts that we have to endure is endless.

I could also have included the impact of the Malta Drydocks and the consequent squeezing out of residents from the Three Cities as a result of its operations, primarily as a result of sandblasting, in the 1970s and 1980s. I could also have added the impact of the waste recycling plant at Marsaskala and the refusal of the authorities to finance studies on the impact of its operations on the health of residents, or else the impact of the operation of petrol stations close to and within various residential areas.

The size of the Maltese islands is limited. A number of the abovementioned  activities/developments  are essential, but others are not. However, it stands to reason that we should not bear the brunt of non-essential activities or developments. This should lead us to plan more carefully so that  the impacts of the activities that are essential are adequately addressed.

As evidenced by the above list, unfortunately over the years those taking decisions betrayed their responsibilities towards the common good, seeking, instead the interests of the select few thereby compounding social injustices.

This is Malta’s contribution to the accumulated tears of Mother Earth.


published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 10 January 2016

Every little drop counts

Drop of water falling into the water

Earlier this week the Ministry for Energy and the Conservation of Water launched a public and stakeholder consultation process on the National Water Management Plan.

As emphasised by the Malta Water Association, Water is everybody’s business. It is also everybody’s responsibility.

Water extracted from illegal boreholes is a misappropriation of a publicly owned resource. Government has been very reluctant to act on this matter throughout the years. It is not just the lack of metering of ground water extraction which is of concern but the extraction itself.

The use of ground water is of concern even when this is done for purposes of agriculture. Agriculture is a major user of water, primarily (but not exclusively) water extracted from the water table.  Whilst assisting agricultural is both understandable and acceptable due to the strategic importance of the sector such assistance must be within well defined limits.  Such assistance should be part of a long term strategy aimed to wean Maltese agriculture away from the use of ground water, encouraging it to use recycled water (treated sewage effluent) instead.

It is clear that the impacts of agriculture on water has been neglected throughout the years. A  National Water Management Plan would be ineffective if it is not buttressed by a National Agricultural Policy which addresses clearly and unequivocally the impacts of agriculture on Malta’s depleted water resources.

Agriculture is not only a major user of water. It is also a major polluter of water resources. For example, the liquid waste generated by animal husbandry has not been addressed throughout the years such that in a number of instances it is a major source polluting the aquifer. In this respect it competes with the use of pesticides.

A National Water Policy must be complemented by a policy laying the foundations for a sustainable agriculture.  Such a policy should guide the agricultural sector towards those crops and activities which require the least water.  This should lead to a policy as a result of which agriculture is assisted in shifting to products which are more compatible with the lack of availability of water in Malta.  It is a must that our policies are reflection of our environmental realities. Otherwise it can never be sustainable.

Agriculture is consuming around 28 million cubic metres of water annually most of which originates from our aquifers.   Using suitable incentives attempts should be made to shift agricultural production  to one which is more in tune with our water realities. On a long term basis the actual water used should be recycled water which is adequately polished.  Over a period of time this would substantially reduce the uptake of ground water by agriculture.

Water used for human consumption as well as all water used for domestic purposes is partly sourced from ground water (44%) whilst the rest is the result of processing of sea water through Reverse Osmosis technology. This amounts to around 29 million cubic metres annually.

Increasing water harvesting measures in residential areas, in particular ensuring that all rainwater in residential areas is adequately collected and subsequently utilised would further ease the pressure on water resources. In addition it would reduce the costs of running our sewage purification plants by eliminating an unnecessary load when rainwater is dumped into the sewers!  A National Water Management Plan should thus ensure that all buildings have suitable water harvesting measures and those which do not should be given a deadline to come to order.

The Resources Authority (MRA) as well as the Water Services Corporation (WSC) have been carrying out various trials and experiments in order to establish the optimum use of treated sewage. A proposal has been made that subject to the quality of the purified water being of an acceptable quality this could be used to recharge the aquifer. To attain this objective it must be ascertained that only permissible liquid waste is discharged into the public sewer.  I am of the opinion that this objective, however laudable,  may result as being quite difficult to attain.

All ground water extraction should be halted as early as possible as it is imperative that both the quantity and quality of water stored in our aquifer is given sufficient time to recover from the mismanagement to which it has been subjected throughout the years.

Water is everybody’s business. We need it. We need to use it efficiently and responsibly. We need to ensure that others too have access to this precious resource. Hence our duty to ensure that no water goes to waste and that everyone has adequate access to it.

published in The Times of Malta, Saturday 15 March 2014

Konsultazzjoni ODZ: il-fehma ta’ Alternattiva Demokratika


Dan hu id-dokument bis-sottomissjonijiet li Alternattiva Demokratika ippreżentat lill-MEPA il-bieraħ fil-proċess ta’ konsultazzjoni dwar l-iżvilupp fl-ODZ, jiġifieri x’jista’ jinbena barra miż-żona tal-iżvilupp :

Politika u Gwida dwar diżinn barra miż-żona ta’ żvilupp

Il-kummenti ta’ Alternattiva Demokratika

Alternattiva Demokratika eżaminat id-dokument ippubblikat mill-MEPA għall-konsultazzjoni pubblika, liema dokument huwa ntitolat  Outside Development Zone Policy and Design Guidance.

Id-dokument jipproponi  l-konsolidazzjoni b’emendi sostanzjali tal-politika kurrenti applikabbli għall-bini agrikolu kif ukoll għaż-żona barra l-iżvilupp.

Fid-dokument in kwistjoni hemm 38  policy differenti.

Id-dokument jagħmel proposti varji dwar l-użu mill-ġdid jew l-iżvilupp mill-ġdid ta’ strutturi eżistenti barra ż-żona ta’ żvilupp. Jintroduċi ukoll proposti dwar il-kostruzzjoni  ta’ strutturi li s’issa ma kienx possibli li jinbnew skond il-politika kurrenti ta’ l-ippjanar ta’ l-użu tal-art.

Id-dokument jonqos milli jikkwantifika u jillokalizza dawk iż-żoni barra miż-żona ta’ l-iżvilupp fejn hemm bini li oriġinalment kien intenzjonat għal skop agrikolu iżda m’għadux użat. In partikolari id-dokument ma jidentifikax fejn hemm żoni f’Malta u Għawdex fejn hemm ammont sinifikanti ta’ bini agrikolu abbandunat.

B’mod speċifiku Alternattiva Demokratika jidhrilha li huwa essenzjali illi jkun kwantifikat kemm hemm bini agrikolu li m’għadux użat.  L-anqas studji dwar l-ammont ta’ bini illegali użat fil-qasam tal-agrikultura ma hu għad disposizzjoni tal-proċess ta’ konsultazzjoni. Il-politika dwar iż-żona barra l-linja tal-iżvilupp ftit għandha siwi jekk din l-informazzjoni ma tkunx magħrufa.

Kien ikun ta’ għajnuna kieku ingħatat stampa ċara u dokumentata tal-impatti li irriżultaw mill-qagħda attwali tal-industrija tat-trobbija tal-majjal u tat-tjur. Jekk dawn l-istudji saru ma jmisshomx inżammu għall-użu intern tal-MEPA iżda kellhom ikunu ippubblikati biex il-proċess ta’ konsultazzjoni jkun infurmat adegwatament dwar il-konsiderazzjonijiet li saru fit-tfassil tal-politika soġgett għal konsultazzjoni pubblika.

Kien ukoll ikun għaqli kieku l-MEPA iġġustifikat il-proposti tagħha dwar l-agrituriżmu. Il-proposta li tippermetti l-bini ta’ għaxart ikmamar li ma jeċċedux l-area ta’ erba’ mitt metru kwadru hi meqjusa waħda esaġerata. Ikun għaqli li wieħed josserva illi fl-Italja fejn l-istat ilu jinkoraġixxi u jappoġġa l-agri-turiżmu għal ta’ l-inqas dawn l-aħħar 25 sena id-daqs medju ta’ servizz offrut minn faċilita ta’ agri-turiżmu hi ta’ 10 sodod, li approssimattivament hi n-nofs ta’ dak rakkomandat mid-dokument ta’ konsultazzjoni.

Dan kollu qiegħed jingħad għax Alternattiva Demokratika hi tal-fehma li l-użu mill-ġdid jew l-iżvilupp mill-ġdid inkluż il-bdil ta’ użu ta’ bini agrikolu eżistenti  li mhux użat biżżejjed inkella hu abbandunat hu pass pożittiv li għandu jkun inkoraġġit. Dan għandu japplika għal dak l-użu kompatibbli mal-agrikultura, inkluż proġetti ta’ agri-turiżmu. Filwaqt li dan it-tip ta’ użu kien diġa permissibli id-dokument li dwaru qed isir konsultazzjoni jagħmel dan iktar ċar.

Alternattiva Demokratika hi tal-fehma li kien ikun ferm aħjar kieku id-dokument ta’ konsultazzjoni inkoraġixxa l-użu mill-ġdid ta’ bini eżistenti (mibni legalment) qabel ma ippropona politika li tinkoraġixxi żvilupp ta’ art verġni barra miż-żona tal-iżvilupp.  Malta ma tiflaħx għall-impatti li jirriżultaw minn żvilupp ta’ iktar art agrikola. L-anqas ma tiflaħ għall-impatti li jirriżultaw jekk l-industrija spekulattiv tittrasferixxi lilha innifisha miz-zoni urbani għal dawk agrikoli. Sfortunatament id-dokument ta’ konsultazzjoni jinkoraġixxi dan permezz tad-diversi proposti dwar il-permissibilita ta’ kostruzzjoni ta’ strutturi ġodda barra miż-żona tal-iżvilupp.

Id-dokument ta’ konsultazzjoni jonqos milli jipproponi kif il-framentazzjoni tar-raba’ użat għall-agrikultura tista’ tkun miġġielda. Fil-fatt bil-proposta li jiffaċilita aċċessi ġodda fiż-żoni agrikoli id-dokument jinkoraġixxi li jsir eżattament bil-maqlub. Jekk l-importanza stateġika tal-agrikultura għall-ekonomija Maltija ser tkun indirizzata din il-frammentazzjoni mhux biss trid tieqaf imma teħtieġ illi titreġġa lura.  Id-dokument ta’ konsultazzjoni jipproponi direzzjoni kompletament differenti u dan billi jinkoraġixxi w jiffaċilita l-frammentazzjoni .

Id-dokument jonqos ukoll milli jiffaċilita l-implimentazzjoni ta’ proposti li saru fi studji fi snin preċedenti dwar il-ġenerazzjoni ta’ enerġija elettrika mill-iskart agrikolu. Din hi materja li teħtieġ li tkun indirizzata b’mod urgenti u dan id-dokument kien il-post addattat fejn dan seta jsir. Bl-applikazzjoni tal-prinċipju tal-prossimita  kien ikun ta’ benefiċċju kieku tfasslu proposti li bħala riżultat tagħhom l-iskart tal-annimali ma jibqax ittrasportat fit-toroq arterjali imma jkun minflok ipproċessat l-iktar viċin possibli ta’ fejn ikun iġġenerat.  Hemm żoni agrikoli kemm f’Malta kif ukoll f’Għawdex fejn hemm konċentrazzjoni ta’ binjiet li fihom jitrabbew l-annimali. F’dawn iż-żoni dawn it-tip ta’ faċilitajiet għandhom mhux biss ikun permissibli, talli għandhom ikunu inkoraġġiti. Proposti ta’ din ix-xorta jwasslu għal prattiċi ta’ immaniġjar sostenibbli tal-iskart u jgħinu biex jitnaqqas sostanzjalment il-piz fuq is-sistema tad-drenaġg kif ukoll fuq it-tlett impjanti għat-tisfija tad-drenaġġ.

AD kienet tistenna li d-dokument ta’ konsultazzjoni jemfasizza l-ħtieġa li l-bini illegali barra miż-żona tal-iżvilupp jitwaqqa’. Alternattiva Demokratika tittama li dan id-dokument ma jservix biex jiġġustifika t-tkattir ta’ workshops (sprayers, panel beaters ….) jew vilel barra miż-żona tal-iżvilupp.

Fid-dawl ta’ dan Alternattiva Demokratika hi tal-fehma li id-dokument ta’ konsultazzjoni jeħtieġ reviżjoni sostanzjali jekk għandu jkun konformi mal-prinċipji tal-iżvilupp sostenibbli.

Carmel Cacopardo                                                             Simon Galea

Kelliemi għall-Iżvilupp Sostenibbli                             Kelliemi għall-Agrikultura

4 ta’ Diċembru 2013

id-document tal-MEPA intitolat : Outside Development Zones. Policy and Design Guidance.

issibu hawn.

Barely scratching the surface

The Noise White Paper, just published for public consultation, identifies the need to coordinate the existing fragmented administrative structures as its first target. This is being done in the belief that it will eventually lead to a smoothening out of administrative inconsistencies. Better coordination could also ensure that, in the long term, issues in respect of which the authorities have, to date, been reluctant to act upon can be addressed in an appropriate manner. Hopefully.

The White Paper deals with the abatement of neighbourhood noise. Its reach should have been much wider. It postpones dealing with the noise generated by fireworks and village feasts to some future date. Cultural aspects and tradition are reasons used to justify this postponement. In reality, the government at this time cannot withstand the anticipated reaction of the fireworks lobby, which has yet to come to terms with restrictions based on safety as is evidenced by reactions to the findings and recommendations of the November 2011 inquiry report on accidents in fireworks factories. Clearly, the government considers that now is not the time to regulate excessive fireworks noise. On the eve of a general election, votes are considered to be a more important consideration.

We have been informed (correctly) that the EU Environmental Noise Directive is not applicable to our airport because the traffic it handles is below the established threshold.

The White Paper does not address the issue of noise generated by aircraft approaching or taking off from Malta’s only airport when flying over residential areas. In particular, the impact of approaching aircraft on Birżebbuġa’s residential area at all times of the day (including during the night) comes to mind.

Now, to be fair, one must state that the airport cannot be transferred to any other site. The flight paths leading to the airport are fixed and their use is determined by the prevalent winds. Malta needs its only airport to be operational. Yet, its operation must be such that it does not cause unnecessary hardship to residential areas along the approaches to and around the airport.

This leaves only one option: regulating the airport’s operating times to restrict aircraft movements during the silent hours as is done at Heathrow, Brussels and Fiumicinio, to mention three airports with which readers are familiar.

The airport authorities need to encourage the use of less noisy aircraft through the determination of differentiated aircraft landing charges dependent on the noise generated by the aircraft. It is about time that the airport authorities start respecting the surrounding communities. This is a missing but essential element of the airport’s sustainable development strategy.

The Noise White Paper draws up a list of those authorities that are empowered to regulate some aspect of noise control. One would expect that the police, the Malta Tourism Authority, the health authorities and the Malta Environment and Planning Authority coordinated by the Noise Control Board to now be in a better position to ensure that commercial outlets (particularly those in a mixed use area) are no longer a nuisance to residents in the vicinity.

It should also be less problematic to deal with nuisance caused by air conditioners fixed in the most awkward places.

But noise does not only impact the health of human beings. It also has a health impact on flora and fauna. This is partly regulated through the Habitats Directive of the EU, which is an integral part of Maltese law.

It is positive that the Noise White Paper recognises this and emphasises the need to ensure its implementation. This should now place more onus on Mepa to ascertain that open-air activities generating excessive noise are immediately brought to order. Examples that come to mind are open air discos at Buskett, Paradise Bay and Ta’ Qali. The first two impact biodiversity in Natura 2000 sites and the last is too close to residential areas, particularly Attard. The aborted Mistra “Spin Valley Disco”, which the Nationalist Party and its stooges at Mepa defended before the 2008 election, would also fall foul of these provisions as it was sited right in the middle of a special area of conservation.

Excessive noise also has a damaging impact on the welfare of animals, both farm animals and pets. The impact of noise on farms and agriculture is completely ignored by the White Paper.

Fireworks regulations, for example, are only concerned with residential areas and the distances to be observed from areas that serve as a residence for more than 100 humans.

Excessive noise in agricultural areas severely impacts agricultural production (like milk, poultry, eggs, rabbits…) and can have a considerable economic impact.

It is up to the minister in question to decide whether to prefer the fireworks at the expense of negative impacts on animal husbandry. He may not worry unnecessarily as animals do not vote!

While the White Paper on Noise Prevention is welcome, it barely scratches the surface. We need to go deeper and tackle areas ignored by the White Paper because noise pollution is an issue that has been neglected for far too long.


This article was published in The Times of Malta , April 14, 2012


on the same subject on this blog :

7th February 2009 : The value of silence

7th November 2009 : When pigs are able to vote