Malta Diary Malta’s agriculture and fisheries sectors – rapidly heading to the end of the road?
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When Malta became independent and no longer a British Colony on 21st September, 1964, the Government of the day declared that as henceforth Malta’s economy would be based on three pillars – tourism, agriculture and fisheries, and industry.
Since then, 55 years have lapsed. The first and third pillars i.e. tourism and industry, have so far remained very solid and have increased excellently. The middle one, agriculture and fisheries, is tottering rapidly – probably heading to the end of the road, and in an increasingly fast manner.
Since then too, every successive Government has boasted it is doing “its maximum” to support the sector and keep it thriving while every successive Opposition has always said the Government “is doing nothing at all” and leaving both agriculture and fisheries to wither away.
In any case, what can really be done?
It is the way that politicians evade reality – and the reality is that times and tides have changed and what were once basic and strong pillars have become weak and sickly – for an enormous variety of reasons.
Take agriculture for a start. For centuries this was dependent on families who owned or rented land and worked that land from dawn to dusk, each generation handing down to the next generation. No recruitment was required – it was all natural inheritance, the peasant inheritance. Not only did the men toil, but their wives and daughters too because all hands had to be on deck at all times.
Over-development has caused agricultural land shrinkage; despite the increase of mechanisation, Malta’s fields are small and much work is by hand and back-breaking work; above all, everything depends on the weather, largely beset by increasing uncertainty in recent years.
The unexpected storms earlier this year in February wrought havoc in the sector and accumulated country damages are estimated to have reached €25 million – with the Government expected to provide compensation as this total does not qualify for EU Fund compensation.
Another major downturn is that the natural inheritance from generation down to generation now no longer applies. Members of the younger generation no longer want to awake at the crack of dawn, spend the day breaking their backs to dusk and then have a torrential downpour, or a Sahara arid sunshine and lack of water, ruining all their hard work.
Why toil in a field in relentless sunshine when you can be comfortably seated in a plush office making pots of money out of your IT degree?
These are just the tip of the rapid and continuing deterioration. A change of time has caused a change of tastes too. Fruit and vegetable imports – not to mention meat and fowl – continually flood the country on a daily basis from nearby Sicily and Italy; beef steaks from Brazil and Argentina mingle with rabbits imported from France.
Local meat, fruit and vegetable produce is said to be tastier and more genuine. Fair enough, but it is often more expensive in addition to foreign produce now coming in handy packages of frozen vegetables and even more importantly, ready cooked for busy families enjoying full employment.
Population growth has also meant increased volumes needed and the local sector suffers from demand outstripping supply.
One of the consequences has been an increasing tendency by farmers to switch to the cultivation of horticulture farming products under transparent plastic and glass panes – but equally necessitating hard work and a certain amount of weather risk.
The fisheries sector has suffered similar decline. Lack of generation inheritance has taken its toll in an equal manner with all-round educational facilities available and so much attractive work in the services and manufacturing sectors readily available. Commercial fishing too is hard, back-breaking work and subject to weather hazards and a certain amount of danger.
Just as the territorial agriculture land availability has shrunk, the marine area has shrunk even more dramatically. Malta’s immediate shores have been devastated badly and where once one saw thousands of amateur fishermen everywhere – these have become a rarity. Over-fishing and plastic dumping have taken a great toll.
Professional fishermen have been forced further and further away offshore and suffer extreme competition from fish farms producing so many tons annually. In addition, EU and international fishing limitations on various fish species to protect and prolong their existence has additionally taken its toll.
All is reflected in the purchase price for consumers with once again frozen products and imported products more attractively priced.
In summary – what future for the agriculture and fisheries sectors; is there a future? At this point, there is only one word to describe the possibility – extremely remote.
How long to go before the pillar totally collapses?
“All the parts of a cow are eventually sold”
An expression used describing a person who has purchased an item that nobody else would ever think of buying. The inference is that no matter how unlikely, in the course of time everything has its sale and purchase potential.