Il-konsultazzjoni hi fl-interess pubbliku

Iktar kmieni illum it-Tribunal ta’ Reviżjoni tal-Ambjent u l-Ippjannar qabel mal-argumenti ppreżentati minni f’isem il-Kunsill Lokali tas-Siġġiewi u Flimkien għall-Ambjent Aħjar meta ħassar deċiżjoni tal-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar dwar tnaqqis fil-protezzjoni fl-inħawi magħrufa bħala Ta’ Dmejrek, fis-Siġġiewi.

Dan sar minħabba li l-Awtoritá tal-Ippjanar, naqset milli tagħmel konsultazzjoni pubblika: ikkonsultat biss ma sid l-art li kellu kull interess li jnaqqas il-protezzjoni tal-art minħabba li ried ikabbar il-barriera tiegħu.

Għaldaqstant it-Tribunal ordna li immedjatament l-art tkun protetta mill-ġdid.

Din hi deċiżjoni ta’ importanza kbira għax it-Tribunal qiegħed jinsisti b’mod ċar li l-konsultazzjoni pubblika hi ta’ importanza kbira fil-proċess tal-ippjanar anke fejn il-liġi hi siekta dwar dan.

(ritratt : l-inħawi fil-viċin tal-art li kienet ser titlef il-protezzjoni)

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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

If pigs had a vote

pigs

The latest shots in Malta’s environmental siege that followed so soon after the Żonqor debacle, were fired earlier this week by Parliamentary Secretary Chris Agius who, accompanied by PN Sports spokesperson David Agius launched a call for expressions of interest in connection with the Concession for the Design, Build and Operation of Motor Recreation and Education Park.

The call specifies the functions which must be fulfilled, namely national and international motor racing events, motor sport training and other related activities including motor research and development. Ancillary activities deemed to complement the project can also be included.

The terms of the call are very wide such that it is ensured that those responding would have sufficient flexibility. The proposed site has not been selected yet, although, as declared by Parliamentary Secretary Agius, the government is aware of the available potential sites due to it having been lobbied by motor racing groups for quite some time. TVM news stated on Tuesday that three specific sites have been identified. From other sources it is known that one of the sites is in Ħal-Far while a second one lies in the limits of Siġġiewi. The location of the third site is so far unknown.

On Thursday, Siggiewi Mayor Karol Aquilina commented that the area known as Ta’ San Niklaw, close to id-Dar Tal-Providenza Siġġiewi, which, he said, was potentially being considered as a candidate site. I think that it is highly unlikely that the Siġġiewi site would be selected in view of the fact that all indications in the past three years have pointed towards the Ħal-Far area as the preferred location. But one never knows.

The call does not limit the site area. Motor racing enthusiasts are speaking of approximately 80 hectares of land which would be required for a three to five kilometre racing track as well as the ancillary facilities. In 2013, during the electoral campaign, the footprint referred to was much smaller, around half the size.

The call for expressions of interest refers to protection of the environment, protection of cultural heritage, long-term sustainability of the project as well as adherence to Natura 2000 protection criteria. Interestingly, however, the call makes no commitment to protect agricultural land. This may be very indicative as to what lies in store.

The scale of the project and its uptake of land, is massive by Maltese standards. It is also out of proportion to the size of the Maltese islands.

Irrespective of the selected site, the land used will undoubtedly include large areas of agricultural land still in use. In good time we will also be informed that abandoned agricultural land will also be incorporated into the project. In such a large area, most of which has never been substantially disturbed, it is also inevitable that some archaeological remains will surface.

There are also issues of air quality and noise pollution. These impacts will be of relevance to communities closest to the selected site. The submitted proposal will undoubtedly include mitigation measures, in particular those relative to noise pollution. Residents have votes and as a direct consequence of this fact there will be a concerted effort to minimise the impact of noise in residential areas. The extent to which this is successful and/or acceptable can only be established when the exact parameters of the proposal are known. Noise pollution will, however, be a major issue irrespective of the identified site.

The Habitats Directive of the European Union is applicable to a number of areas in the Maltese islands. Through the implementation of this Directive, it is not only the specific sites which are afforded protection. This protection extends beyond the sites to activity in the area surrounding the sites in so far that the said activity will have an impact on the protected sites.

The proposals to be submitted will have an impact on nocturnal natural life on the selected site and its surroundings. Such nocturnal life is heavily impacted by both noise and light pollution which will result from motor sport activities .

Farm animals in the vicinity of the selected site will also be in for a hard time. Noise pollution from the racing track will have a considerable impact on the operation of farms as well as on farm animals.

Pigs, cows and birds do not vote. If they did we would definitely not need to worry about ODZs any more.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday – 4 October 2015