‘Our livelihoods are tied to that land.’ – A call for Food Sovereignty

The issues surrounding farmers’ rights in Malta are often neglected. The increased competition from imported produce, local supply-chains designed to favour the middlemen and the rapidity of development across the island have seen the population of farmers in Malta dwindle. In June we had the opportunity to attend training organised by Young Friends of the Earth Europe in collaboration with Friends of the Earth Cyprus to learn all about food sovereignty, a concept that places the rights of peasants, farmers and land workers at its core. The training invited participants from 5 other countries, namely, Cyprus, Ireland, Austria, Estonia, and Denmark.

The idea of food sovereignty began with La Via Campesina, an international organisation which represents the rights of farmers. The organisation was founded 26 years ago, in 1993 and they coined the term food sovereignty in 1996. Loosely defined, it aims to give power back to the producer and the consumer. As it stands in Europe, funds from the European Union tend to favour large-scale farms, attracting big business and leave small producers lugging behind. The funds are part of the Common Agricultural Policy which is currently being reformed. These larger farms lean towards intensive systems of agriculture and are ultimately unsustainable. La Via Campesina aims to change this by educating producers and consumers as well as lobbying for better policies.

Representatives of the organisation were present and led most of the workshops in Cyprus. The sessions were based primarily on the concept of popular education which sees that the participants’ experience take an active role in the learning programme. The training triggered discussions about the difficulties faced by farmers in our respective countries, taught us about ways forward and how to engage with policymakers.

Just a month after our return and the need for a conversation about food sovereignty on the island is no more evident than with the approval of the central link road. The project will replace close to 50,000 sqm with tarmac and concrete with reports of 47 farmers being affected. The planning authority board meeting saw the intervention of John Camilleri, a local farmer whose passionate case against the road fell on deaf ears. His ask was simply for better planning and traffic management that would safeguard the land of the farmers. As he pointed out ‘it is all of Malta that stands to lose.’

Video of another farmer after the meeting revealed that few farmers know whether the land they stand to lose will be replaced. She explained ‘Our livelihoods are tied to that land.’ And goes on to say, ‘I would like to know where we stand. What will happen to us?’ The absence of Clint Camilleri, Parliamentary Secretary for Agriculture, during the meeting raises more questions as to whether the authorities concerned spoke to the farmers.

Malta’s agricultural landscape is dominated by the small-scale farmer. This leads to people who perhaps lack the support network to adequately stand up for themselves. So, in lieu of policies which help the small-scale farmer, the simplest thing one can do in Malta is to shop local and if possible directly from the producer.

The article was written by Maria Eileen Fsadni and Samuel Muscat based on their training in Cyprus between 26thJune and 30thJune.

Friends of the Earth Malta gratefully acknowledges financial assistance from the European Union. The content of this article are the sole responsibility of Friends of the Earth Malta and cannot be regarded as reflecting the position of the European Union. The European Union cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information provided 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.

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