The Malta Independent 21 September 2021, Tuesday

PN proposes scheme to help farmers buy fields, pay ‘just’ rent to land owners

Tuesday, 14 September 2021, 14:26 Last update: about 6 days ago

The Nationalist Party has proposed new schemes in order to tackle the agricultural leases saga which is affecting farmers and landowners alike. 

In a press conference outside the Pitkalija on Tuesday, the PN said that it had come up with two schemes which would help farmers buy agricultural land which they work or which would help them pay their agricultural lease at a “just price” to the owner of the land. 

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The first scheme would see a PN government help farmers acquire the fields they work through a loan with no interest and no guaranteed expense through a purpose-built fund available as a bank guarantee.

Such a scheme would be open to all existing farmers who want to acquire fields from the private sctor, the party said before adding that this would indirectly address the question of the need for a just price for private land which is currently under scrutiny in court. 

The said scheme would also be open to young farmers who wish to start working in the agricultural industry. 

Under the second scheme, a Nationalist government would provide direct financial aid on the payment of agricultural leases on private land. 

The party said that the scheme would see the government reimburse 70% of the cost of the rent to farmers who prove that they are producing fruit and vegetables which is being sold on the local market. 

The scheme would also be joined with subsidies which would come through the European Rural Programme for greening measures which introduce biodiversity in the Maltese countryside. 

The party said that the schemes would be voluntary and without prejudice to other negotiations which may be on-going between the private sector and farmers on private agricultural leases, and without prejudice to any court sentences. 

The PN also proposed, independently from the schemes above, that there is the need to hurry regularisation processes on government agricultural leases and that a number of cases of such leases with the government which are still pending are decided. 

For this purpose, the party said that an administrative ad hoc board which has the ability to decide on such cases in a short period of time and give instructions to government authorities such as the Lands Department should be set up. 

The proposals emerged from the party’s environment cluster, and aim to protect agricultural land, preserve Maltese food supply, and help Maltese farmers who are being left without fields to work. 

The press conference was addressed by PN chief spokesperson Peter Agius, party MP Edwin Vassallo, and general election candidate Rebekah Cilia.

As things stand, many fields are rented out to farmers on the basis of protected agricultural leases.  These leases cannot be terminated or have their fees adjusted by the landlord save for very particular circumstances.

The Malta Independent on Sunday recently spoke to a landowner, who himself works in the agricultural business, who told this newsroom of his struggle to get his own land back from farmers who occupy it – farmers who in the most part, he said, aren’t actual farmers, but only plant animal fodder for the sake of holding onto the land. 

That landowner said that all he wants is to be able to have the choice of what to do with his own land, rather than be held to ransom by people posing to be farmers just for the sake of holding onto that land. 

On the farmer’s side meanwhile in reaction to this newspaper’s article, Ghaqda Bdiewa Attivi said that while the landowner in question said he would not even think of evicting full-time farmers who make a living off the land, this was not the case for many other landowners which they are dealing with. 

They have said that many full-time farmers are being left at risk of not having land to work because their landowners have taken them to court, and that the farming industry is hence at great risk of collapse.

 

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