Organic is a compelling, noble concept. One that should theoretically unite people for a common goal – that of providing safe food for consumption while respecting the environment. But, as it happens with any high-value and niche idea, the term ‘organic’ has been unjustly hijacked by marketers wanting to make an easy and quick buck. The idea of consuming ‘healthy’ food is of great appeal to consumers however, so the notion quickly spread like wildfire, both abroad, and in the past years even locally.
So isn’t organic food beneficial? Of course it is, as should be the case with any other good quality, responsibly-produced food. The main difference between organic and conventional production, that a lot of people fail to recognise, is that organic production makes use of pesticides which are safer for the environment. It is a marketing stunt (one that works brilliantly) to have people believe that pesticides, even chemical ones, are not used at all. And it is quite easy to explain: pests DO exist, they are on the increase, and they’re getting even more resilient. So yes, pests are there, be it for organic or conventional agriculture, therefore, some sort of pesticide (any method that kills or reduces pests) is needed!
Shouldn’t we seek organic produce then? From a Maltese perspective, I always use the phrase ‘local before labels’. If it has been locally produced and all the safety measures have been taken into consideration, I would choose local before any other quality mark, any day! If the product is local and organically produced, then it is even better because I know that I am contributing more towards the natural environment. But to choose imported products over Maltese just because the label says ‘organic’, for me, it defeats the whole sustainability purpose. The essence of the matter is that ANY food that we consume needs to be safe for consumption (learn more about the #withorwithout campaign).
Although there are other niche cultures, locally, agriculture which is not ‘certified organic’ is put under the term ‘conventional production’. Malta has developed vastly not only in terms of buildings and infrastructure but also when it comes to agriculture. We used to be known for a traditional type of agriculture, and in fact, we have retained a large aspect of this, due to the small-scale farming. Nowadays however, farmers and breeders have embraced technologies which allow them to carry out efficient and sustainable production while up-keeping stringent agricultural and animal welfare practices.
What is being promoted locally with today’s farmers is the notion of Integrated Pest Management (IPM). This is where organic and sustainable-conventional agriculture converge. IPM is a system (very widespread in the Maltese Islands) where simple methods are practised in order to avoid the use of unwanted chemicals. Such techniques could be preventive, but also a relieve against pests.
For example, weeds (which are in reality plants that compete with crops) can either be eradicated by means of a herbicide, a pesticide targeting weeds, or else the unwanted plant pest can be pulled out from the soil mechanically. Such action can be either manual, simply pulling out the weeds by hand, or else using specialised equipment, such as an inter-row cultivator (mutur tal-inqix). This is just one of the many examples implemented locally as part of the IPM system.
Support these entities who promote local and sustainable agriculture:
Plant Protection Directorate (PDF download)