The Malta Independent 15 April 2024, Monday
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Updated (2): Maltese farmers hold protest over policies threatening their livelihood

Isaac Saliba Friday, 2 February 2024, 11:59 Last update: about 3 months ago

Maltese farmers gathered in Ta’ Qali and drove in tractors and heavy vehicles to Floriana in protest against policies that are threatening their livelihood.

The farmers drove 12 kilometres through Attard, Mosta, Lija, Birkirkara, Msida, Pieta and Floriana, where they held a press conference to explain their grievances.

The Maltese farmers, under the umbrella of the Ghaqda Bdiewa Attivi, are the latest to protest after similar events took place in many countries across Europe, include Belgium, Poland, France, Greece, The Netherlands, Romania and Germany.

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The association said its protest is supported by various other sectors in the local food chain.

Speaking at the Floriana Granaries, President of the Għaqda Bdiewa Attivi Malcolm Borg called it a historic day for Maltese farmers, as they all came together with one collective goal, to fight for their rights and their livelihood.

He said that farmers have faced many challenges thrown at them, but that they have now reached their final breath and said that enough is enough. Borg said that it is important to show solidarity with other European farmers, going on to say that the EU needs to cease its negotiations with third countries and stop importing food when they are in direct competition with European produce.

Michael Borg, a member of the Għaqda Bdiewa Attivi, said that the farmers gathered together to show solidarity with one another as well as the other European farmers who are being affected by the EU's plans. He said that farmers already have significant expenses, especially in the case of Maltese farmers due to the isolated nature of the country. He said that the EU's intention to facilitate more importation of products from outside the EU would greatly hinder local farmers and imports from other EU countries such as Italy. He added that the farmers came out to protest, and will continue to protest if needed until the European governments and authorities head their pleas.

Another member of the Għaqda Bdiewa Attivi said that it is difficult for local farmers to compete with these countries. He added that following the protest, the organisation expects the government to produce the records of imports within the last two years on Monday.

Prime Minister Robert Abela also went on site, and spent some time discussing matters with the farmers, listening to their complaints and offering suggestions for the way forward.

In a statement distributed to journalists, the Ghaqda Bdiewa Attivi outlined their issues with the situation. It said that with the support of various stakeholders in the agricultural sector it had organized a demonstration "against the European Union's current framework and future ambitions that are seriously threatening the livelihoods of farmers. These and other similar issues are also being raised by farmers protesting in other European countries to whom we extend our sincere solidarity."

The Għaqda Bdiewa Attivi said that the European Union has always favoured the promotion of trade and commerce between the bloc and third countries. "This is generally done by the signing of agreements with such countries to facilitate such trade to and from the European Union. For food products, this means that local farmers are having to compete with produce coming from countries outside the EU and which have lower (environmental and other) standards and less regulations they need to adhere by not to mention the lower costs of production. This is giving rise to a very unfair and uneven playing field and is having very significant effects on the profits of local food producers who are being outcompeted by such food items. It is hence that it is no longer possible to accept products coming from such countries if these are directly competing with products being produced by local farmers."

It also said that the European Union has a stringent framework regulating State Aid which precludes Governments from financially assisting farmers that would require such assistance for various reasons (e.g. increased expenses, damage compensation, etc.). "Even if funds are to be disbursed from national coffers and there is the will by the national Government to assist farmers in difficult situations, State Aid rules generally come in the way. This is unfair and unjust especially when considering that farmers in countries outside the European Union get substantial financial assistance from their respective Governments which would help to shoulder the production costs burden and further make their products more competitive when in EU markets. It is thus essential that State Aid rules for the agricultural sector are relaxed to allow Governments to intervene and assist farmers financially when the needs (as determined by farmers) arise to make farms more competitive."

The European Union, the farmers said, is finding it of increasing benefit to promote fallow land for the enhancement of soil fertility and other environmental reasons. The Għaqda Bdiewa Attivi said that "to promote, through financial instruments or otherwise, unproductive land runs counter to the essence of agriculture which historically, culturally, socially and economically exist to produce. To leave fallow land also means to produce less, with the unproduced amount having to come from imported sources. To promote fallowing of land whilst increasing food imports is ridiculous, counterintuitive and a slap in the face of food producers who, with ever-increasing expenses, seek to use the land to produce food whilst those that do not use the land gets the financial incentives. Thus such land fallowing Measures and legislative provisions  should be shelved immediately and funds used to financially assist farmers who are using the land to produce food to seek to reduce dependency on imported food."

It also said that through a plethora of legislative frameworks, "the European Union is seeking to be the trail blazer in making its food production more environmentally friendly. The overarching Green Deal together with the Farm-to-Fork Strategy, the Biodiversity Strategy, the Regulation on the Sustainable Use of Plant Protection Products, the Nature Restoration Law, the new provisions in the Common Agricultural Policy and other legislative proposals all have very significant impacts on farmers, their work and livelihoods. Although there is no doubt that environmental protection is essential and crucial, these have to be sensitive to the sector, farmers, their families and food provision. Such aggressive, quick and ambitious changes within these legislative frameworks will have detrimental effects on the food landscape in Malta and Europe, in general, since they would be significantly affecting the tools (e.g. chemicals, land available, etc.) used by farmers to produce food. Hence the provisions of these environmental legislations should be achieved once ensuring that economical alternatives to these affected tools exist and that all measures are in place for the impact on farmers' to be mitigated."

Over the past days, snow-dusted tractors lined up outside the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, and nighttime protests in Romania marked by vivid national flags have become markers of a farmer protest movement across Europe.

For weeks, farmers have complained that it’s becoming harder than ever to make a decent living as energy and fertilizer costs surge because of Russia’s war in Ukraine, more and cheaper farm imports enter the bloc, and climate change-fueled droughts, floods or fires destroy crops.

The biggest demonstrations have been seen in France, where farmers blocked highways around Paris with their tractors, but the dayslong protests have spread across the European Union, highlighting deep-seated grievances within the agricultural sector.

The movement was triggered by concerns over low wages, heavy regulation and cheap imports.

Lines of tractors rolled menacingly across a residential street in Poland and across a German bridge, while farming protesters in Italy burned spectacular nighttime fires by stone statues.

Convoys with hundreds of angry farmers driving heavy-duty tractors created chaos outside the European Union’s headquarters on Thursday demanding leaders at an EU summit provide relief from rising prices and bureaucracy.

PN statement

Food security in the country needs to be a priority, Opposition Leader Bernard Grech said on social media. "If farming ends, the Maltese families will suffer as we would be solely dependent on importation."

He said that Europe uses 40% of its budget to help farmers, :yet the government failed to understand the delicate situation of our country and the higher expenses for Maltese, even to bring products used in their fields."

Grech said that "we need to recognise how to use the funds available to be of help and for the Maltese product not to continue being hit. How can the Maltese compete, if the expenses are higher, and farmers in other countries in Europe are better supported as their governments fight for better packages."

 

 

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