Janet Dwyer and John Powell, supported by Paul Courtney and Katarina Kubinakova, have been visiting Malta every couple of months for almost 2 years now, talking to farmers and other rural development stakeholders, running workshops, visiting farms, hosting meetings and making presentations about how we think EU funding could best be used to support Malta’s rural areas and farms.

The reason for these visits, (beyond the sunnier climate of course!) is that they, in partnership with the Maltese Managing Authority, will be launching the public consultation on the new RDP for Malta at a meeting hosted by the Parliamentary Secretary for sustainable development, environment and climate change on 8 November, in Malta. The consultation represents the culmination of over 2 years’ working with stakeholders across the islands of Malta and Gozo to help identify key needs, aspirations and opportunities to use EU rural development funds to promote sustainable farming and rural areas in Malta and to design a multi-annual funding programme around these.

Janet Dwyer, who has been most frequently from the CCRI team, provides some background information on the country:

Malta is a unique island and has been a member of the EU for just under 10 years and although only a small island (316sq/km) it has a large population which doubles every summer with tourists from all over Europe.

It is a limestone outcrop set in the southern Mediterranean which has a long and rich culture and history as a maritime fortress, presided over for many centuries by the Knights of St John, and then administered by the British for about 150 years, gaining independence in the late 1960s. 

Today it is a relatively prosperous small island with a landscape of tiny terraced farm fields growing a wide variety of fruit and vegetables, with outcrops of limestone pavement and scrub, and a wealth of historic limestone buildings, churches and monuments. The sea is some of the clearest and best for diving in  the Mediterranean, and in the summer there are cultural festivals with fireworks almost every weekend. Maltese wines and olives are relatively rare but of very high quality – see the items on both on Jamie Oliver’s food blogs – and other culinary specialities include goat and sheep’s milk cheeselets, wild capers and a very sweet and concentrated tomato paste.

These are some of Maltese farming’s ‘opportunities’ for future  development, to set against its challenges, which include water scarcity, pollution of the water table with some of the highest nitrate levels in Europe, poor management of forage crops, poor organisation of fruit and vegetable marketing, and land abandonment in more remote areas along the sea coasts, where the terraces are crumbling and many people have lost interest in farming.

Livestock producers face ever-increasing costs of importing feed whilst their products are under-cut in the marketplace by cheaper imports from other countries, and traceability and quality in the food chain are poorly established. There is tremendous potential to develop a stronger food culture in Malta, but this will require concerted effort by farmers, food processors, restaurants, hotels and retailers.

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