Farmers warn of exodus unless solution to hefty agricultural leases is found

Farming organisations are appealing to the government to stop agricultural land from being leased at commercial prices saying it will cause an ‘exodus of farmers’

(Photo: Tessa Mercieca, MaYA Foundation)
(Photo: Tessa Mercieca, MaYA Foundation)

A coalition of 18 farming organisations are calling on the government to find an immediate solution regarding the leasing of agricultural land or face an "exodus of farmers".

They were reacting to news that the Agricultural Leases Board has begun evicting farmers from the land they were tilling, as a result of a constitutional court case in November 2020, which deemed that the present law that protected farmers went against the Constitution and denied landowners their fundamental rights.

The coalition said this was a hazardous situation that could lead to the "exodus of farmers, resulting in huge social and environmental impacts".

Earlier in the week, PN chief spokesperson Peter Agius and candidate Clifford Zahra Fenech raised the matter during a visit to Żejtun farmer Jean-Paul Fenech.

There are currently 40 farmers in court over their leased agricultural land and the number is expected to grow.

The agricultural leases after the constitutional ruling are being negotiated according to the current market rates, which are dependent on the demand for the land for recreational purposes. This is resulting in market prices that are not within the budget of the farmers.

“As a consequence, dozens of farmers will lose their livelihood, while the land they manage will fall in the hands of those who have neither the intention nor knowledge on how to farm it, or utilised for purposes that are not necessarily agricultural,” it said. 

The coalition highlighted that one of the strategies launched by the government post-COVID included improved food security and the strengthening of the island’s food production. It also said that farmers should be assisted to strengthen their position as land managers.

“It is evident that in some cases, the rent money paid for private land is ridiculous, and therefore it would be wise to revise such prices so that landowners would be more justly compensated. However, such a price must never be based on the land’s market value.”

The statement said that agricultural land has social and environmental purposes, and therefore, its value cannot be determined only by the lands’ commercial prices.

The primary scope of agricultural land is food production that is accessible and affordable to everyone. Therefore, the coalition said that the producers’ profit margins could never afford high rents as these costs would not be economically feasible, the coalition said. 

“That is why agricultural organisations are calling on the government to intervene urgently to find a solution that would make sense for all,” the collation said.