Tuesday 20 October 2020

Information and recommendations about farmers and COVID-19 quarantine measures

The MaYA Foundation has been following a few cases where farmers have been obliged to follow quarantine rules. Frequently asked questions and official replies can be obtained on this link: https://agrifish.gov.mt/en/Documents/coronavirus/faqCoronaVirusEN.pdf

A farmer may be obliged to stay at home for 15 days as a preventive measure or in case of a positive COVID-19 result. One may then request for an exemption by email and only after providing detailed information about farming duties an exemption might be granted from the Health Department following further investigations and recommendations by relevant departments.

We are aware that such exemptions are stringent especially for full-time farmers, so we have been trying to understand the situation better while liaising with relevant departments.
Following communication with various health and agri officials over the past few days, we have gathered the following list of issues and recommendations. These recommendations have been forwarded to the relevant departments.

Provisions necessary 

As far as we know, farmers have not been specifically notified, about the conditions they need to abide by in case of quarantine. Unfortunately, the quarantine situation may lead to a number of difficult situations. 

We are aware of the struggles faced in order to obtain an exemption, and wish to prevent similar situations from happening in the future. 

Not all farms are equipped with basic amenities and for public health reasons, a citizen with all the civil rights and dignity, of course, cannot go and live on a farm in such conditions. Some farmers live on the same premises, but not everyone is as lucky.

Recommendation: We appreciate that quarantine rules cannot be breached, and that an exemption is difficult to obtain, so we are advocating for sector-sensitive considerations, measures and awareness. 

Stakeholders and farmers alike need to be alerted about the current situation, and a corresponding action plan clearly set out to be followed when it becomes necessary.

Being unprepared is the worst possible scenario. 


Time window

An allocation of one hour a day is simply not enough to manage a whole farm, irrespective of the size of the holding/herd. Full-time farmers especially, spend more than 10 hours a day on average managing their farms and one cannot simply abandon farm operations. 

Many farmers manage their farms together with other family members, but others do not. If a farm has a workforce of say 3 persons, and suddenly the load is shared between just 2, there are surely several repercussions.

Recommendation: Since there are no freelance service providers who can replace their work (not even at a cost), we would like to ask whether a temporary skilled workforce funded by the Ministry can be set up to alleviate such situations. 

Location where quarantine needs to be carried out

Arable farmers, livestock breeders and farm managers working on mixed farms may encounter different situations. We believe that a case-by-case approach needs to be adopted together with a strong communication channel that needs to be established between the farmer and related government officials. 

The 111 helpline gives advice on the health aspects of such situations but not on the agri/veterinary/welfare side.

One must not forget that at the beginning of the pandemic, farmers were considered an important asset for the country, for food security reasons. Now that the second wave has hit, we still need to be very careful and fully support food producers, in all manners possible.


Transportation of feeds, live/dead animals

A farmer under quarantine cannot leave the farm (if he/she is carrying out the mandatory quarantine on the farm). Obtaining feeds, other resources and transporting live/dead animals might be complicated to avoid exposure with other persons.

If the farmer is not living on the farm throughout quarantine and is visiting the farm during limited hours as obliged by health authorities, this will likely pose difficulties coordinating deliveries, where delivery persons carrying feeds may not be readily available to carry feeds at 5am or after 10pm. 

Recommendation: Farmers need to be encouraged and advised to store sufficient resources for a period of 15 days on the farm, in case they are on quarantine.

In the case that an animal needs to be urgently transferred from one farm to another, or to the abattoir, farmers are suggesting that a temporary service is provided by the veterinary services.


Financial losses incurred

If a farmer neglects his crops/livestock, huge financial losses will result. Such losses need to be avoided at all costs. Farmers need to set up a contingency plan in case they cannot sell their products or losses are suffered during quarantine. 

Farmers are asking who will be responsible for such losses. 

Recommendation: All farmers need to be aware of what can happen and how to deal with such situations. A support fund needs to be set up in order for farmers to fall back on in case of need.

We shall be keeping our followers informed through the news section of our website and on MaYA Facebook page

To keep in touch, drop us a line on info@maya.org.mt.


Tuesday 6 October 2020

Planning and environment issues raised by young farmers

The revision of the Rural Policy has been discussed during a meeting held yesterday with Hon. Aaron Farrugia at Casa Leone. The Minister expressed willingness to assist in environmental and planning issues that can improve the situation of farming in Malta. The overall outcome of the meeting was positive and more discussions will be held between MaYA and MECP in the near future. 

Ms. Jeanette Borg, Mr. Karl Scerri and Mr. Jorge Spiteri from the MaYA Foundation attended the meeting. Mr. Cyrus Engerer from MECP was also present for the meeting. 

MaYA meeting with Hon. Aaron Farrugia

Here is a short summary about the points we have raised during the meeting;

- The primary aim of the policy should be to enable genuine farmers to operate and invest in a sustainable manner. Bona fide farmers need to be given more credit and priority. Farmers are the most important stakeholders in rural areas; as food producers and guardians of the countryside.

- There is an urgent need to facilitate planning applications for water harvesting interventions. Water scarcity remains one of the most pressing issues in our country and without water harvesting solutions, farmers would need to resort to other sources of water that are not necessarily sustainable. 

- Permitting issues related to agri-storage facilities and cold stores also need to be given priority and allow for flexibility. 

- Every specific sub-sector has its own planning requirements. Such requirements may change over time due to industry forces. 

- There is a need to improve how we define an active farmer and basic land management criteria for planning and permitting purposes. In order to allow innovation and diversification, policies need to be flexible enough to allow genuine and legitimate investments. 

- Policies are only documents and not law - boundaries are set rather than hard fixed rules. A policy needs to give a clear direction, rather than give specific details of what can, and cannot be done. In our opinion, this is why certain difficulties arise when adjudicating projects. On the other hand, such policies can lead to new laws. 

- Relevant authorities need to be allocated more resources for the effective eradication of alien and invasive species. 

- Bureaucracy is hindering progress in the agriculture sector. Any efforts to consolidate and reduce fragmentation within government entities would be welcome. 

To view the feedback document prepared by MaYA and ACT click here.

Should you wish to submit feedback and suggestions, you may do so by sending an email on info@maya.org.mt.