The Malta Independent 24 October 2021, Sunday

Agriculture, fisheries being hit by virus effects, minister says

Karl Azzopardi Wednesday, 1 April 2020, 07:32 Last update: about 3 years ago

Agriculture, Fisheries and Animal Rights Minister Anton Refalo has told The Malta Independent that the coronavirus epidemic has and will have an effect on both the agriculture and fisheries sectors.

“The entire industry is being affected, not just agriculture, including fishing. We have had a lot of problems with fishermen who had employed foreigners to work with them but they have had to leave the country due to the circumstances,” Refalo said.

Another problem that this sector faces is the closing down of restaurants. This has limited the places where individuals who make a living from these sectors can sell their products.

While thanking his parliamentary secretary and members of his ministry for their hard work and support, he argued that the ministry has taken the right measures to counter this negative impact.

Last week, the ministry took the decision to enable individuals over the age of 65 to go to their respective farms, as long as they are on their own and respect social distancing regulations.

Refalo said that people can still go to the pitkalija (open market) and the biċċerija (abattoir).

Additionally, the ministry addressed the issue of the farmers’ market which is an important source of income for this sector. Farmers with a farmers’ market licence were given temporary street hawker permits which will enable them to sell their produce outside of the farmer’s markets so as to eliminate clustering and reduce the chance of spreading the virus.

These permits were given out on the condition that there is a 100-metre distance between any other seller with a street hawker’s licence and any other food establishment that is not closed. However, only two stalls can be set up within a 300metre radius.

Malcom Borg, founder of Għaqda Bdiewa Attivi, had previously told this newsroom that with the closing down of restaurants and other food establishments, more people are cooking from home, thus, purchasing more fresh fruit and vegetables.

He pointed out that certain people have become increasingly wary of buying fruit and vegetables that are imported from countries heavily hit by the virus, which was seen more in the first few days of the emergency due to panic-buying.

This begs the question as to whether or not prices of local produce will increase due to this increase in demand. This newsroom asked Refalo if he thinks that this is the case.

“As a ministry, we anticipated that at the start of this pandemic prices will increase as there are those who would try to take advantage of this uncomfortable situation. However, if the supply remains stable then the prices will start to decrease. Prices will only go up if there is not enough supply,” Refalo explained.

He added that the fact that the farmer’s market, the open market and the abattoir have remained open helps keep the supply stable, thus, balancing out the price as well.

Refalo stressed that despite this sector representing 1% of the GDP, it is still important as it encompasses what people eat and it is conjoined with environment and tourism.

Malcolm Borg shares this sentiment and he believes that it is at times like these that people appreciate the hands that feed them.

“I have always insisted that the country needs some form of food sovereignty and security strategy. I always insisted that we must be prepared for emergencies, but the possibility of having our imports threatened was considered so remote in a world of strong, dynamic trade, that politicians and policy makers never gave this topic a second thought,” Borg said.

“It is now that politicians and the public are realising that in the current situation, when all the various sectors of the economy are coming to a halt, we are uncovering an inconvenient truth. Our food producers can be the pillars that keep us standing, but that these pillars have eroded a very great extent over the past 20 years,” Borg said.

 

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