COVID-19 and Maltese agriculture

In response to the Ag-Press request for country-specific information – “Farming during COVID-19 pandemic: how is your country coping?”

Here is an overview about what’s been happening in Malta over the past weeks.

  • Local authorities have been on high alert and tackling the COVID-19 outbreak with great responsibility. The Health Minister Dr. Chris Fearne and Prof. Charmaine Gauci have been communicating regularly through the National television station about updates and measures taken on a day-to-day basis
  • The first positive case of coronavirus was confirmed on the 7th of March
  • Educational facilities closed on Friday the 13th of March
  • Monday 23rd March at 8am, non-essential retail stopped
  • So far Malta has reported 195 confirmed cases and 0 deaths

 

# How are farmers doing in your country?

Here are some highlights about how local farmers are coping with the crisis:

  • The demand for local food has remained stable and slightly increased in some sectors, however official statistics still need to be issued by the government.
  • Farmers markets have been closed due to social distancing measures, leaving a number of local farmers isolated from their regular clients.
  • Due to the closure of the vast majority of shops, bars and restaurants, some farmers had to seek other sales channels to avoid having to dump their produce.
  • A number of farmers, farm shops, butchers and street vendors have taken up the challenge to reach their clients in a variety of methods. Allowing clients to pre-order the produce and opt for a pick-up or delivery has ensured continuity of farm sales and flexibility for families who are currently staying at home.
  • Various websites and/or Facebook fan pages have been set up bringing farmers closer to the community. The local farming community was known to resist online marketing, however, these circumstances have changed the way business is carried out.

# Which measures is your government taking for agriculture?

  • The Ministry for Health has issued stricter measures on the 28th of March to curb the spread of COVID-19 by ordering persons over 65 years of age and other vulnerable persons to stay at home. Due to our ageing farming population, an exemption has been given to those working in the local agri-food sector. Farmers and fishermen may continue to work on their farms and/or continue fishing. Tending to livestock and arable land has thus been given priority.
  • The Veterinary Regulation Directorate has recently issued a number of temporary permits to farmers (who have the capacity to produce more livestock) in case Malta goes on a complete lockdown.
  • The newly found Ministry for Agriculture, Fisheries and Animal rights has issued a temporary license for farmers with a farmers’ market permit as street hawkers (PR200571en)
  • Since applications for land-based measures cannot be received at the local authority’s front office as in previous years, Minister Mr. Anton Refalo has announced yesterday, that personalised applications will be sent to farmers in order to ensure the distribution of CAP funding.

 

# Are there already any consequences on production, agricultural trade or food supply?

  • Production and local trade are quite normal considering the current global crisis. However, we are starting to note an increase in food prices which may be attributed to the pandemic, water scarcity in the previous months and other market forces.
  • Malta is a net importer of food and sooner or later we will start feeling changes due to the slowing down of the transport systems and the decline of manual workers in Italy. The market is already witnessing a more limited range of products on the stores’ shelves.

# What will or should change when the crises is over?

  • More appreciation of local agricultural produce amongst local citizens.
  • Improved online/offline connectivity between farmers and the community.
  • Improved agri-food chain measures adopted by local enterprises, NGOs and government agencies.

# Where can you be reached right now? 

Currently, I’m working from home. My email address is jeanetta.borg@gmail.com.

Daily schedules at home needed to change drastically since schools closed down. My husband is very supportive and we take it in turns to occupy Nikol, our toddler, who is badly missing his play school mates and time at the playground.

Since we are not on total lockdown, we do go out as a family (my husband, Nikol and myself only) for an occasional drive with the car or for short walks in remote areas of the countryside. However, obeying strict social distancing measures remains a high priority for us, and for all the citizens of Malta.

 

Sources:

https://covid19malta.info/

Featured photo: Ta’ Bona Farm, Malta

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