Why Grow Organic?
The benefits of going organic are mostly obvious. Other not so obvious
reasons are given under the heading 'Why support organic?
feature is primarily aimed to convince professional farmers and administrators,
but many arguments made will apply to amateur farmers and gardeners irrespective
of how much land they have at their disposal to cultivate. The arguments can
also apply to people with conservatories on roofs and balconies.
We at MOAM believe that, for Malta, the only way forward for agriculture to have a future is for Malta to be entirely organic. In fact, one of our long term objectives is to
make the Maltese islands an exclusively organic archipelago. No, this is not
some sort of fanatically obsessed ambition. It is neither an irrational or
hastily made objective. We admit that it is idealistic, but very conceivable
for a small isolated archipelago of Islands like Malta. On a global scale the story is different, but we would still say, never
say never when it comes to our health and that of our planet mother earth,
the unique living planet. Please allow us to develop our arguments and decide,
for you on why we should grow organic.
What is the current state of affairs of agriculture in Malta? What was the state before accession to the European Union (EU) and
what will it be in the near future? Yes, The arguments
all relate to the state of affairs brought about by our membership within the
European Union. Basically, this one fact sums it all. By becoming members,
conventional agriculture has its days numbered, the number of days being
directly proportional to the period for which farmers will receive subsides to
nullify the decrease in prices they receive for their produce.
In the past, before accession to the European Union, foreign
agricultural produce had levies imposed to make them uncompetitive with similar
Maltese produce. Sicily,
a powerhouse of agriculture in the Mediterranean is only 60 miles
away. Importers have already begun studying which crops fetch good prices at
market, phoning Sicily in the morning and flooding the market with cheap produce from Sicily the same or next day. Some farmers have even become importers. It
works, not very different from sabotage. In this case, by utilizing ones
capital and suppliers from Sicily,
to flood the local market, with cheap produce when the local farmer has
invested and worked hard to bring his produce to market.
Sicily has all the advantages we do not.
Sicily is blessed with abundant wide expanse of agricultural land. The soil
for the most part is deep, fertile volcanic soil. Water is plentiful. The
weather is not dissimilar to our own. The topography of the fields allows for
efficient mechanization. They have a big tradition in the way of agricultural
produce. They manufacture their own agricultural machinery; in fact Italy is one of the world leaders in agricultural machinery and plant. What
more must we say? Conventional agriculture in Malta is doomed to die a not too distant death (2008?) It is not just Sicily, but all countries on the Mediterranean rim. Even Tunis, Libya and Morocco,
who are advancing technologically with wages one-third, that in Malta, will be hard to beat. So, even with imposed import duty they will
manage to out compete us.
How can Malta
compete with such an efficient agricultural region as Sicily? Almost all their agriculture is mechanized and mass-produced and wages
are not so different from ours. The playing field is not level and Malta cannot compete.
Malta lacks an adequate water supply crucial to production on such an aridly
hot island like ours. To make matters worse, excessive pumping of underground
water takes place, to the detriment of the natural aquifer. In summer water
which normally rates at 1000ppm becomes 2000ppm and thus detrimental to plants,
soil and especially trees. Grape vines and fruit tree have been known to die
when irrigated with this water. Most of this pumping of underground water is
done illegally and in many cases for the filling of swimming pools. It is a
natural public resource being used as a money-makers,
by those who dare to break the law.
Malta lacks adequate soil and this in quality and quantity/depth. Many fields
in Malta are either very heavy in clay or very shallow with strata of rock just
one to three feet of soil depth. Although adequate for vegetables and maybe
cereals these fields are not suitable for fruit trees or even olives and vines.
The heavy clay soils are unworkable in winter and not very convenient, not even
The fields in Malta
are small and irregular in shape and thus unsuitable for mechanization and mass
production. In Sicily large fields can be sown or planted by just three operators with no
sweat in a fraction of the time it would take three hard working Maltese
farmers to plant/ sow a small fraction of what the Sicilians are capable of
doing with their machines. Field fragmentation by inheritance further
diminishes the size of Maltese fields. Archaic rural lease laws inhibit investment
and agricultural development. Some bona fide farmers and non bona fide farmers
hold on to leases just for land speculation purposes or for personal hobbies
like bird trapping, hunting or plain picnicking. They will either not work the
land letting it degenerate or just sow wheat year after year. When they are
investigated by the rural leases tribunal they will step up their agricultural
activity and when the investigation is over cease to cultivate the land. And
the archaic law courts (rural lease tribunal) perpetuate their holding by way
of the lengthy and inefficient processes to evict these same people.
Farmers that have lease titles do not invest in their land because it is
not theirs. They should be given the opportunity to purchase. If their livelihoods
aren't from this land and they refuse to purchase, some other bona fide farmer
should be given the opportunity to purchase. To avoid land fragmentation,
inheritance should not allow subdivision of holdings. There are various
solutions to achieve this.
Organic Farming is a winner for Malta
Organic farming can give us the winning edge we need to beat the
competition because organic farming is not disadvantaged by the pros in favour
of our competitors in the Mediterranean region.
Organic farming is not about quantity but quality so land size, shape,
topography and mechanization has little effect. In organic farming one produces
less, but more variety and because of the premium prices paid earns the same or
even more. Large savings are made on large quantities of expensive chemicals.
Some fruit although tasty and wholesome may not be very presentable but may be
further processed with very high mark ups.
For example seemingly unimpressive olives can be cold pressed to produce
very expensive extra virgin olive oil, which sells at good prices. Grapes are
made into quality wines that sell for equally good prices. The same can be said
of goats/sheep cheese and honey etc.
Soil quality is not important because part and parcel with organic
farming comes soil improvement. Holistic organic
farming must include farm animals that produce large quantities of manure. This
manure is composted (another essential organic practice) with vegetation to use
as addition to fields. Thus soil depth and quality is improved. Even heavy clay
soils can be improved. This also goes for light sandy soils with low water
Less water is needed for organic because the water retention of the soil
is increased. But water management would still be indispensable. In farming,
especially, water is gold.
Organic Farming and its intrinsic charm, character and diversity of
produce, animals and habitat, (even of wild fauna and flora) makes it a magnet
of interest to the general public whether they be local or foreign. It also
attracts interest from students of kinder or university age. This fact opens up
rural areas to the general public who will pay for services and produce at farm
gate prices benefiting themselves and the farmers alike. It will eliminate the
middleman who does the least work and makes the most profit. People in Malta feel confined with the ever-increasing development, but opening up the
country lanes, hills and valleys, will make Malta more spatial. People will discover first hand, how their food is
produced and will demand that it be organic in all instances. They will want to
see farm animals live free range and grow in decent
environmental conditions, even if for slaughter.
Organic Farming will naturally fit into an infrastructure of rural
development, which is high on the politicians agenda,
whilst conventional farming would be repulsive in a rural design that is built
to incorporate a natural rural atmosphere with all the natural abundance of
flora, fauna and topography that this entails. Conventional intensive farming utilizes
practices that inherently obliterate the very rural development we envisage.
In short, these arguments reiterate what is fact. Conventional farming
will no longer be viable once subsidies are removed. Organic Farming, intrinsically,
is a niche, protected from the mass-producing nations around the med, by virtue
of its Maltese character, which cannot be copied. Conventional farming by
way of regional and world economic realities, plus its detrimental abuse of
the ecology of Malta,
is destined to fail. Organic farming on the other hand is 100% sustainable
both economically and ecologically. It provides an opportunity for a win/win
situation. The transition cannot be 100% immediate. The produce will not always
be cheap and abundant, but for quantity and price cheap imports of conventional
produce can still be maintained. The important factor would be Malta being organic known for its quality produce. This would be a hallmark
of Malta giving added prestige to our image. One way forward would be to gradually
isolate conventional farming to confinement in greenhouses and eventually
convert these also to organic practices. Use of hydroponics will also eliminate
the need to use herbicides. There are many ways to encourage such conversion.
Consult MOAM. Better still, become a MOAM member.