Louis is a local farmer working in Mellieħa. He has been farming organically for quite a number of years, cultivating over 10,000m2 on his own & working pretty much 7 days a week. Over the last year, he has found help and support from Samwel, a young anthropology student who wanted to learn about organic farming in Malta. Through Louis, Samwel has learnt to appreciate rural life.
21 years old, University graduate in Anthropology, spent one year working as a farmhand with an organic farmer
Thanks to modern certification methods, organic agriculture is increasingly defined by, and narrowed down to, a checklist of regulations. This mystifies those parts of the production process that are not strictly governed by certification. It also allows advertising to focus primarily on health benefits to the exclusion of less desirable elements, such as the food miles involved in importing organic food; possibly unfair conditions of labour; and the use of pesticides, which can actually be higher in industrial organic farms that grow in monocultures. That being said, the situation is different in Malta. Here, organic farming offers farmers an alternative route to securing a fair price. Most organic farmers were conventional farmers dissatisfied with a market situation that is flawed and unjust. Switching to organic allowed them to adopt direct selling methods, since the very high demand for organic food guarantees a steady market. It thus offers hope for Maltese farmers who are frustrated with the bottom line. However, in my fieldwork with organic farmers, I observed that organic brought together a spectrum of values that include but go beyond a fair profit. They conceived their switch to organic as a return to old traditions and methods, embedding their enterprise in their sense of history and family rather than treating these as separate domains. This enriched them on personal level. They also keep their production small-scale, reducing industrial inputs and using only the most basic pesticides. They feel healthier, more responsible to themselves and to customers, more stable financially, and more in touch with their past. This is why we need to de-mistify organic in the eyes of local farmers, consumers, and especially the authorities. I believe that consumers ought to recognise that local agriculture, whether conventional or organic, is more worthy of their support than imported food. With local support, farmers would be in a better position to take the step from conventional to organic agriculture, a step that is far from insurmountable.
This project has been funded with support from the European Commission. This article reflects the views only of the author, and the Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein.
This project is co-financed by the Ministry for Education and Employment (MEDE) and the Parliamentary Secretary for Youth, Sport and Voluntary Organisation.