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Farmers’ lobby group

Agriculture makes only a modest contribution to Malta’s gross domestic product. Still, it is crucially important that this sector of the economy is sustained not only for the preservation of the ever-diminishing rural character of the countryside but also because of the contribution made – albeit limited by size and geography – to the nation’s food security and quality of life.

A lobby group - Għaqda Bdiewa Attivi (Active Farmers Association) - to promote the position (and the plight) of the farming community has just been formed. Its leader, Malcolm Borg, presented the case for the new lobby.

For too long, he pointed out, farmers have been left to their own devices, battling higher customer expectations and stricter regulations with very limited technical assistance. In the meantime, they had been increasingly alienated from consumers.

“Farmers,” he said, “are tired of trying to keep up with lengthy bureaucratic processes, working more than 14 hours a day and not even covering their expenses. They are resilient but resilience is being abused by the authorities, especially those promising reforms that never materialised.”

Many of his sentiments would be echoed by farmers throughout the European Union, if not the whole world. Reluctance by farmers to get together is a worldwide phenomenon. It is an intrinsic part of their make-up and character: stoic, hardworking, independent-minded and lonely toilers of the soil in all kinds of weather and in the face of huge obstacles.

However, the new lobby group maintains that never has there been a greater need for Maltese farmers, the custodians of our rural environment and guardians of fresh food on our tables, to come together to press for the changes that are urgently required.

He cited “stagnant political will, increased bureaucracy and lack of traceability [of the origins of food sold] at the Pitkali” as some of the challenges that the new farmers’ organisation intended to flag up.

About 100 farmers have already joined the new lobby group. Mr Borg is urging others to enrol “as unity brought about strength”. Gozitan farmer Alex Tabone fully supported this sentiment as several issues that had hit farmers stemmed, in his view, from a lack of unity. For example, if there was some new policy, change or reform in the pipeline, the Għaqda Bdiewa Attivi could voice farmers’ concerns louder than they are able to do so on their own.

There is undoubtedly a need for farmers’ voices to be heard by the government and those who regulate their activities. The presence of the new farmers’ organisation in the policy sphere and the market-place is therefore heartily to be welcomed. Its determination to stand up for farmers’ rights and conditions is commendable. But it must also not lose sight of the ultimate responsibility to the consumers who buy farmers’ produce. These must meet the high standards of hygiene, presentation and nutrition that the European Union rightly lays down.

The lobby group’s firm declaration that it will be presenting “position papers... proposing reasonable solutions and alternatives to systems and policies that are neither benefitting farmers nor the environment” is, therefore, greatly to be welcomed. Their future effectiveness as a lobby group will depend largely on their credibility, actions, quality and, of course, support, including by the public.

This is a Times of Malta print editorial

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