This week Christian, Nikol and I enjoyed cruising around the Maltese countryside in search of the last remaining fields of Sulla. It was quite windy, but we still ventured outdoors, towards Girgenti. While we were on the way to this fertile area in the limits of Siġġiewi, we spotted a few fields where the Sulla crop had not yet been harvested. We drove through narrow winding roads, and when we reached a particularly beautiful field we stopped the car. Even Nikol was mesmerised at the vibrant red colour of this unique fodder crop.
Sadly, the cultivation of Sulla has dwindled over the past few years. A real pity considering how it beautifies our Maltese landscape during late Springtime. There are several reasons that contribute to this decline here in Malta. The main ones being, low-income returns, its labour intensive harvesting and the lack of adequate post-harvesting facilities.
To appreciate the importance of this crop, I have listed down a few basic facts;
- Perennial herb native to Malta, Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia, Southern Italy and Spain
- Cultivated as part of crop rotation systems and for honey production
- Considered as a landscape feature due to its bright red flowers
- Improves soil Nitrogen as it’s a leguminous crop (fixing nitrogen into the soil)
According to Paul Spiteri, a local expert in Poultry Science, “the production of Sulla is not only important for the benefits it has on the soil but also as a high protein forage for animals. It’s a pity that Sulla is traditionally harvested when the crop has lost most of its nutritional value. Cooperative investment in drying technology would add value to this crop and possibly make it a desired forage once again.”
The cultivation of this crop was increasing steadily between 2007 and 2013 because of a financial incentive given to farmers. The agri-environment measure funded by the EU, was part of the Rural Development Plan for Malta (2007 – 2013) and provided support for traditional crop rotation including the cultivation of Sulla. For some reason, this measure was not included in the following Rural Development Plan and the cultivation of this crop declined in significance once again.
It is easy to take for granted the knowledge and traditions that our ancestors have left us. Unless we work hard to preserve these practices, we will not be able to reap the fruits of fertile soils and enjoy our traditional landscape in the future. Farmers need to be given all the support available to farm the land in a sustainable manner if we want them to continue being the environmental stewards that they are.
Rural Development Plan for Malta (2007 – 2013) & (2013-2020)