Why Grow Organic?

 

The benefits of going organic are mostly obvious. Other not so obvious reasons are given under the heading 'Why support organic?

 

This 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 for vines.

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 retention.

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.