We need more farmers
Farming has tremendous health benefits, both to individuals and society at large. If we want to become a healthier and more economically competitive country, Malta needs to create more opportunities for farming.
These opportunities do not necessarily have to be in full-time farming, but, maybe even more importantly, in part-time farming. What follows is the logic behind this idea and its relevance to Maltese society in the context of an internationally competitive environment.
Farming provides the opportunity for thousands of professionals, office-based workers and those with sedentary jobs, but also for those who have some free time on their hands, to have a break, do some healthy physical activity, and grow their crops in an environment that is soothing to the senses.
It is a chance to make friends with fellow ‘farmers’, exchange crops and expertise. And, in the words of a fellow farmer, “there’s nothing quite like putting vegetables you’ve grown yourself on the kitchen table”.
Contemporary Maltese society is characterised by ever-increasing numbers of children and adults suffering from the health effects of a sedentary lifestyle, characteristically obesity and heart disease.
It is a society that is becoming increasingly individualistic and fragmented, giving rise to loneliness and depression. In such a scenario, the benefits of part-time farming, along with other opportunities for physical activity and community building, are immeasurable.
In economic terms, the benefits of having a healthier, more physically active and engaged Maltese community, alleviates the burden from our increasingly expensive healthcare. Healthcare policies, in turn, could be better focused on curing the inevitable, thus becoming more sustainable in the long term.
At an individual level, it is always very encouraging to take home fresh vegetables. The money saved can be spent on other necessities or treats.
Furthermore, producing food that is consumed locally is usually more environment-friendly and carries with it a much lower carbon footprint, in addition to promoting the local economy. Finally, a healthier Maltese community is much more likely to be economically active and intellectually creative.
Growing crops is also educational as it may help expand agricultural expertise among the locals.
World-renowned economists and sociologists have speculated that the price of agricultural produce will increase in the coming decades due to, among other things, rural to urban migration worldwide, as witnessed since the mid-20th century.
As a result of this, the average age of a US farmer today is 59 and in Japan it is over 60.
This phenomenon, coupled with the effects of climate change, will put pressure on the prices of agricultural products. It would be wise for Malta to prepare itself for this.
Many developed countries are changing direction in favour of environmentally sustainable and climate change mitigation policy. Furthermore, we have an ageing Maltese community that is increasingly reliant on the scarce resources of healthcare.
A society that is rife with diseases that can reasonably be avoided with physical activity and community building, the idea of community farming is an initiative that could make Maltese society more competitive.
The initiative Midd Idejk, which has seen hundreds of people submit applications to try their hand at farming an allotment in Għammieri, has been a success.
Its success, however, lies not only in creating a space for those with green fingers to try their hands at farming, but also in introducing the concept of allotments in our society.
It would be good if such an initiative were to grow and see allotments sprouting all over Malta, close to people’s homes.
Community farming is an effective way to provide Maltese society with the possibility of leading healthier, more community-oriented lives, in a way that would benefit society both economically, emotionally and intellectually.
Mr DeBono is a public health specialist.