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Agriculture: a political Cinderella?

AD candidate Simon Galea writes: Agriculture has been absent from the political discourse and discussion for ages. But it can be an area where economic, social and environmental interests can meet

16 May 2017, 1:05pm
My interest in organic farming stems from the fact that such practices can help create a value added industry and make agriculture an important player in the economic sphere
My interest in organic farming stems from the fact that such practices can help create a value added industry and make agriculture an important player in the economic sphere
As a candidate on the Alternattiva Demokratika ticket, I focus on agriculture. The sector can contribute much more to our wellbeing, while providing farmers with a decent livelihood.

During this election campaign we have emphasised the links of both the PN and PL to big business and strong lobbies. AD has highlighted the multitude of conflicts of interest candidates and MPs from these parties have. From donations masked as payments from adverts (according to the donors), to directorships of secretive fiduciary companies, and so on and so forth. Small farmers do not have the clout of big business and risk being ignored.

My interest in organic farming stems from the fact that such practices can help create a value added industry and make agriculture an important player in the economic sphere once again. Given the small size of each holding, organic farming in Malta offers greater challenges due to the fact that a farmer practising organic farming risks having his crops contaminated by pesticides applied by neighbouring conventional farmers.

I believe that we need to conduct studies where agricultural areas with potential to foster organic farming are identified. Technical assistance and incentives, both fiscal and the provision of the appropriate marketing platforms are essential to get farmers to join such programmes. A marketing strategy for organic produce includes education campaigns on the benefits of organic food, both to consumers and to our quality of life in general. Facilitating sales through the creation of local markets specifically for organic farmers, small-scale agritourism and the facilitation of the organic produce certification process is essential. 

In order to maximise profits, farmers registering in an organic agriculture programme should be given technical and practical assistance to process their own produce. There are still too many obstacles in place. I could mention a whole list of products, from dried tomatoes, Jerusalem artichokes hearts in olive oil, jams and many more.

Enforcement on the use or misuse of pesticides needs to be beefed up. Pesticides should be considered akin to medicines – prescribed by agronomists for specific problems. Presently such inspections are limited due to the fact that no proper laboratory facilities are available and hence all samples have to be sent abroad for testing. Our proposals include the setting up of such laboratory facilities. Enforcement and timely testing is in the interest of farmers who follow good practices. It is unfair that these farmers carry the burden of loss of reputation and sales because of the irresponsible few. 

Permaculture is another agricultural system, which not only encompasses organic principles but also incorporates the growing of produce to the ecosystem and the principles of sustainability and social aspects. The introduction of this concept to both farmers (particularly those practising organic farming) and to consumers alike should be facilitated. 

The issue of agriculture is absent from this election campaign. In reality it has been absent from the political discourse and discussion for ages. Agriculture can be an area where economic, social and environmental interests can meet. I firmly believe that as a country we are missing opportunities to create new jobs, based on a scientific and sustainable approach to agriculture.  

Simon Galea is contesting the sixth and 12th districts for Alternattiva Demokratika

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