The Malta Independent 21 March 2023, Tuesday
View E-Paper

Safeguarding land and livelihoods

Alicia Bugeja Said Sunday, 29 January 2023, 09:13 Last update: about 3 months ago

The efficient and effective use of our arable land is an issue that originates from decisions and policies past; yet, to have a safeguarded future, it requires tangible action in the present. The latest set of Government proposals aim to address a substantial chunk of the main questions posed, eventually leading to tangible and meaningful results.

Earlier this week, I addressed the members of the House of Representatives, as Parliament is currently discussing amendments on how agricultural land is transferred from one individual to another. We sought to make the amount of rent payable for agricultural land fairer and more proportional to its value, in a way which detracts the use of land for speculation, development and any other reasons not related to agriculture. This balancing act, however, is to be done without unduly endangering the rights of the owner of the land, and of the tenant.


The issue of arable land in Malta is a significant one. Our country is both the fifth smallest country in the European continent and the third most densely populated. Our geographical isolation also leaves us susceptible to trade shocks and other economic phenomenon: the war in Ukraine, coming right on the heels of the Covid pandemic, continued to squeeze inflation on most consumer goods, at a rate which would have spiraled out of control, were it not for this Government’s immediate and effective fiscal interventions.  

This delicate balancing act leaves an indelible effect on multiple other sectors: most of the land in question is arable, much needed to sustain local food production, in an era where circular economy and sustainability are high up on the agenda. Once transformed into a residential and commercial development, a present and future source of local food production is permanently gone. This results in further pressure on farmers to squeeze even more produce out of every inch of their usable farmland. Additionally, due to lack of steady supply, consumers may resort to foreign products, which are usually economically pricier, and environmentally costlier, with no additional health benefits.

Another issue relates to the future of the agricultural industry in itself. Incentivising young farmers to establish themselves within this sector and thus ensure the growth and re-generation of the industry, is already a tall order. If there is a lack of arable land available, then the sustainability of our agriculture becomes severely imperiled.

The current status quo does not incentivise landowners in engaging sufficiently with the newer generation of farmers. This in turn increases the risk of over-development, especially in areas that ought to be utilised for arable purposes.

This government has for quite some time recognised the need for significant reform with regards to the use of arable land. We seek to balance the rights of the landowners, with those of the farmers, and the national interest. In isolation, however, these amendments would be fruitless. That is why, over the course of the past few years, the government has launched different schemes and projects which were meant to shore up our local food production at source.

Over the past two years, the government had already invested around €850,000 on improvements to the Pitkalija food market. A new technostructure added more transparency and traceability to the food sold in the market, to the added benefit and peace of mind for both the consumer and the farmer. This transparency also helped limit any avenues for price hiking and other predatory practices in our national market.

The Malta Food Agency, which has overseen a number of the investments mentioned above, has also undergone efforts in engaging with different stakeholders, from schools to private companies. We are exploring new ways of how both agricultural and fishing byproducts or other species of flora and fauna, which are not usually sold on the market, can be re-processed and sold back to different consumers for various products.

Further investments were also made in the Public Abattoir. Our aim is to protect the quality of the local meat products, while supplementing all efforts aimed at maximising sustainability. The government’s efforts here are also squarely aimed at always ensuring the availability of meat stocks.

By enlarging our facilities, more meat products can be safely stored before reaching our market shelves, especially in cases of low demand. By engaging with producers directly, our long-term availability strategic goals are also adhered to. We are ensuring that existing operators keep regenerating and remain profitable; additionally, we are also incentivising new producers to join the local market and secure a viable economic footpath.

All these efforts, however, are severely imperiled if we do not protect the limited arable space that our country currently possesses. Short-term economic goals cannot run roughshod over long-term sustainability concerns. As a government, we are obliged to enact the changes necessary for the betterment of our country and we will continue to do so throughout this legislature.

  • don't miss