Congratulations to active farmers - Carmel Vella

Congratulations to active farmers - Carmel Vella

Your editorial ‘Farmers Lobby Group’ of November 9 merits appreciation and due attention. You have exposed the salient problems facing the Maltese farming community and expressed your support for the new lobby group.

It is very encouraging that you have pointed out your concern on the subject. Farmers are seldom mentioned in the press or in forums where this subject may be discussed. Your editorial will hopefully serve as an eye opener to all who have an interest in safeguarding the farming community before it is too late.

I wish to congratulate Malcolm Borg, and his collaborators, for the initiative to launch a new association for farmers. I wish them success and express my appreciation for their interest in helping our farmers.

I come from a farming family and still do some farm work daily as a hobby. Various problems listed in your paper are a challenge to all concerned to work for solutions.

I would like to point out the difficulties and hardship of the farming community.

The problem to convince farmers to join a union has been known for many years, resulting in speculation and abuse to their detriment. They have to be educated and convinced that to obtain results to better their conditions they must be united in an organised front.

I know that the new association has a difficult task to make farmers join their union. Direct contact is a must, even if necessary at the place of work. They are always busy throughout the whole week and work long hours.

Time is very precious for them and they cannot afford enough time, to read, attend meetings and keep themselves informed. Farming needs daily attention and they are tied to such a life. Farming is subject to all elements and this must be understood and appreciated.

Due to various reasons farmers have become discouraged and have abandoned their fields. Young farmers have noticed that there is no future in farming and are not interested in such work. It is true that youngsters today prefer to continue with their studies. However those inclined to continue in the family’s farming trade need encouragement, support and favourable conditions.

It has been pointed out that the farming industry contributes little to the Maltese economy. This must never be an excuse to put aside any efforts to help them. There are many other aspects to consider.

First and foremost farmers must be considered and respected as human beings, like workers in other trades. They are contributing to keep our fertile land cultivated and producing genuine local fresh food. They are fulfilling their natural vocation.

Our fertile farms, constructed and looked after since the beginning of our history, must be preserved as part of our heritage.

In your editorial various problems facing the farmers were listed. Solutions are not easy. Everyone is obliged to attend and do his part according to his responsibilities, authorities, unions and farmers as well. The problems at the Pitkalija are well known.

One of the main problems affecting the livelihood of our farmers is the imports of agricultural products from other countries, mainly from the European Union.

It is true that world trade believes in free trade between nations with no restrictions. It is also true that due to our membership of the EU we cannot restrict imports from member states and we cannot be stopped to export our products to these countries as well.

Imports are putting our farmers at a great disadvantage. This is resulting in loss of interest and farmers relinquishing their trade

Many years ago agricultural products were imported for products we don’t produce or, for a limited time, when there was a shortage of particular products.

As regards export we can only do that with limited quantities of very few products. Considering our particular difficulties to be competitive, our position must be understood. Today it is not common to speak about import restrictions. Still the problems for our farming industry increased as a result of these policies. That is also a true fact and that is what concerns us most.

Our agreement with the European Union is binding and equally valid to all member states. I maintain that in agriculture Malta should have been considered as a very special case. The present difficulties could have been appreciated and foreseen well before accepting all conditions.

I know that it was not easy to be granted special conditions. I maintain however that since the EU believes in equal opportunities for its members, Malta merits to be treated in a more just way.

Apart from the hardship because of the imports, it must be said that our farmers have benefitted, and still do, from grants and other advantages from the Union. However, this cannot be accepted as compensation. The competition problem still remains.

That Malta is a very limited market is well known. To a certain extent local production is sufficient for local consumption. A number of farmers have improved and made progress in their cultivation by means of greenhouses and today many products are available on the market all the year round.

It is obvious that all year round imports are putting our farmers at a great disadvantage. This is resulting in loss of interest and farmers relinquishing their trade.

This situation calls for a new study for the revision of existing conditions. There are various reasons and facts which can prove that such a request for revision is more than justified. Restricting imports from other countries will not cause any damage to foreign farmers. Their export to Malta can be compared to the sale of a daily supply to a small town, or a part of it, in their countries.

They will not abandon their fields because they are restricted from exporting to Malta. On the other hand the Maltese farmer suffers. We do have intelligent persons who can present our case with facts and figures and submit proposals for improvement.

Malta will not be the first country to ask for a revision. Some were successful as in the case of milk quotas.

It seems that justified claims receive comprehension and grants to make good for conditions that are hard to bear. That is what is badly needed for our farmers: support, comprehension and a political will to revise the negative effects of the prevailing conditions.

If others believe that import restrictions are impossible to adopt, then I expect to read about alternative solutions so that the haemorrhage in our farming will be arrested or restrained.

My appeal is addressed to all who are in a position to intervene. Apart from imports, there are other subjects which must be noted and followed by action. Political will is uppermost.

Farmers must unite, join and support their representatives not only to safeguard their personal interests but also in the interest of all of us to continue, with satisfaction, finding genuine and delicious products of our country.

Our Islands will also be blessed with fertile farms cultivated by our zealous and dedicated farmers.

Carmel Vella is a pensioner.

This is a Times of Malta print opinion piece

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