The Malta Independent 27 September 2023, Wednesday
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Government launches agricultural land reform, pushes amendments that will affect such leases

Sabrina Zammit Tuesday, 4 October 2022, 14:08 Last update: about 13 months ago

The government is issuing a White Paper regarding agricultural land in Malta, and is also putting forward new legal amendments to Parliament that will affect the value of such land, Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and animal rights Anton Refalo said on Tuesday.

These proposed legal amendments are to the Agricultural Leases (Reletting) Act. 

"Agricultural land is going to be valued as agricultural land, and not according to the land market in general," Refalo said.

The amendments will also include the introduction of new provisions for when a change to lease conditions are made that consist of an increase in rent.

This will allow for a fairer compensation for the landlord, he said. This new rent will be 'objectively' estimated and relates to the land in question without being tied to the conditions of other nearby fields, as it was until today, the government said.

Additionally this new amendment to the current Act will ensure "peace of mind" for farmers who rent land from private owners in order for them to continue farming and continue investing  in agricultural fields.

The White Paper on Agricultural Land Reforms, the minister said, aims to safeguard agricultural land.

In explaining what the White Paper contains, Refalo said that an authority will be set up, that will safeguard private agricultural land and its possession.

Additionally the status of the farmer will be defined, accompanied with distinctions between active farmers, hobby farmers and new ones.

The minister said that this will lead to the assurance that agricultural land is worked for agricultural purposes.

It is being proposed that development of agricultural zones will have to take place within the confines of land of agricultural value, as per the 2006 local plans.

The White Paper also proposes the development of a new Cadastre and registry for the selling and renting of agricultural land will be developed. It also proposes that a notification of the promise of sale of private agricultural land will also be made available to the public, where a right of preference is given to the tenant farmers to buy land leased to them.

Regulations and guidelines on the assessment of crops will be set up, in order to establish the right price that would be tied to the use of the agricultural land for the production of food. In addition, the White Paper also proposes that tax measures be introduced, aimed at incentivising investment in farming.

Additionally a new process to operate the concept of a fair price and that first preference be given to genuine farmers in calls for offers from the Lands Authority on government agricultural land.

The owner of the land will be given the opportunity to file an application  regarding the amount of rent they want to receive. Subsequently, the farmer will also be allowed to indicate his opinion as to what he believes a fair rent amount would be.

A board will have the final say in terms of establishing the final rent amount to be paid, after it evaluates the value of the land, taking into account the circumstances and the condition of the land together with any additional costs billed to the original owner.

The final rent price should not exceed the 1.5% of the value of the agricultural land per year.

Also, it is proposed that farmers who live on a farm that is their sole residence will be able to benefit from a benefits scheme on rent.

Justice Minister Jonathan Attard said that this is a "much needed" law.

He added that this proposal together with proposed amendments to current laws will address a situation where, up until now, nobody had the courage to bring up.

In his additional comments, Refalo said that the courts always recognised the right to protect agricultural land rent, in both its social and private aspects. He added, however, that it has now recognised that there is a lack of proportionality between the two."

"We are proposing to balance it out" he said, as agricultural land should not be used for commerce (something which goes against the scope of agricultural land) but rather be used in its primary form, that of cultivating produce."

Mentioning current court cases, where agricultural land owners are demanding to be given fairer rent by farmers who are occupying private land, Refalo said that compensation should be considered objectively "as it was one of the main points which arose during these constitutional cases."

He said that these new amendments are targeting a legal haemorrhage, as more cases requesting fairer rent filed by private land owners continue to be filed in court.

Currently there around 7,500 farmers around Malta who don’t own the agricultural land they work.

Public consultation on the White Paper will be open for submissions on, up until 8 November.




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