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MALTATODAY 4 April 2021

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PAUL COCKS THE pitkala middlemen who find buyers for farmers' pro- duce, have refused to turn up at the central vegetable market this week in protest at a government consultation process to improve the Pitkalija's operations. Only four of the 17 licensed middlemen turned up at the Pit- kalija, accusing the government of wanting to increase the bank guarantee they pay each year as security for the payments due to farmers. They want the government to do away altogether with bank guarantee but also want their commission increased from 8% to 15%. Farmers and the pitkali are now pitted against each other, with the Għaqda Bdiewa Attivi has accusing the Pitkala Asso- ciation of wanting to revoke the bank guarantee obligations on market fruit and vegetable trad- ers. Under a previous 2015 reform, the pitkala could only have their licenses renewed if they present a bank guarantee equivalent to 10% of the previous year's sales made. At law they are paid 8% in commission on the sales they broker. Now, the pitkala want to do away with the bank guarantee. "This is unacceptable. The costs and risks of vegetable and fruit production are very high, and in light of other major challenges such as competition with an im- ported product, costs are always rising," the farmers' association said in a statement. "Challenges in the resources available to producers means that uncertainties in the pay- ment of products would amount to a significant regression in the position of farmers to continue to grow food for the Maltese population and take care of our rural environment." The agriculture ministry said it will protect the farmers and provide a viable system through which they are paid in time and in full for the produce they sell to the pitkala. Minister Anton Refalo cate- gorically denied any plans to do away with the bank guarantee – or to raise the percentage pitkala pay as a bank guarantee. "The rate is not even up for discus- sion," he told MaltaToday. "A change to the law would require the involvement of the State Attorney, Cabinet and parlia- ment." Refalo said the consultations were aimed at putting up better safeguards for farmers. "This is their produce and they should be able to know what is happen- ing with it, who it is being sold to, what it is being sold for and when." He said this was solely about providing full traceability of the produce, as well as introducing further safeguards to protect farmers. Despite farmers willing to ne- gotiate a 10% commission, the pitkala are fixed on 15%. But that would deal a blow to farm- ers, who already suffer from too little return on produce. Sources told MaltaToday that, in actual fact, it was only six of the 17 middlemen who had to provide a larger bank guaran- tee, and only because they had a larger turnover in 2020 than in 2019. "Because they made more money last year, this year's guar- antee has to increase to reflect that," the source said. "But it is the amount in relation to the previous year that is higher, not the percentage asked." The other 11 middlemen saw a drop in revenue last year so they will be putting up a smaller bank guarantee. In the absence of most of the middlemen at the central mar- ket this week, six farmers took it upon themselves to set up shop and sell their produce di- rectly themselves. They ended up making more money, having skipped the middleman directly. Refalo said the major concern for the ministry remains the farmers, who have always suf- fered from a lack of secure and sure way to trace their produce. As things stand, nothing stops a middleman from a selling a farmer's produce for €1 but tell- ing the farmer he sold it for 50c. The farmer has no way to learn, check or confirm what his pro- duce brought on the market. Introducing a traceability sys- tem – that could trace produce from the consumers' table to the grocer, the pitkal, and on to the farmer's field – would go a long way to assuaging most of exist- ing concerns. Edwin Vassallo, the PN's spokesman for farming, urged the government to publish its plans for the Pitkalija without any further delays. "COVID-19 has already provided farmers with additional challenges," he said. "We believe that any prob- lems at the Pitkalija that can disrupt the sale of farmers' pro- duce, should be tackled immedi- ately as they could cause irrepa- rable harm to farmers." The Malta Youth in Agricul- ture (MaYA) Foundation said that with many of the middle- men not operating, many farm- ers would not be able to trade their produce as usual. "The timing for this disruption could not have been any worse con- sidering that production is at its peak," it said. MaYA welcomed news that farmers co-op Farmers' Cen- tral Cooperative Society Ltd. (FCCS), who already act as Pit- kalija middlemen, would be will- ing to step in to replace the de- faulting brokers. The government Malta Food Agency has replaced the pri- vate company Pitkalija Limited in regulating individual piktala. "We appeal to the Ministry for Agriculture, Fisheries, Food and Animal Rights to make sure that this situation does not lead to further burdens on producers and provide all the necessary resources to avoid food waste especially in the midst of a pan- demic," MaYA said. 4 maltatoday | SUNDAY • 4 APRIL 2021 NEWS By decree given by the Civil Court, First Hall on the 4th March, 2021, on the application of APS Bank plc (C2192), Tuesday, 25th May, 2021, at eleven in the morning (11.00 a.m.), has been fixed for the Sale by Auction, to be held in Room Number 78, Nearby the Courts Archives, Level -1, Courts of Justice, Triq ir-Repubblika, Valletta, of the following property. The factory, the warehouse, the showroom built on three (3) portions of land, officially numbered thirty-two (32), thirty three (33) and thirty four (34), all adjacent to each other, and with airspace and subterranean levels, situated in an industrial zone in Mosta, acces- sible from Triq il-Kappar and Triq il-Parsott, Mosta, and with a façade on Triq il-Farkizzan and Triq il-Parsott, bounded on the North West by a new street abutting onto Triq il-Kap- par, on the South East with Triq il-Parsott and on the East with property of the successors in title of the company Ficus Limited, free and unencumbered and valued at four million, eight hundred and fifty thousand euro (€4,850,000). The said tenement is the property of Alu Care Mosta Limited (C32359). N.B. The said tenement will be sold as described in the acts of judicial sales number 22/2020. Registry of the Superior Courts, this Thursday, 25th March, 2021. Gaetana Aquilina For the Registrar, Civil Courts and Tribunals Pitkala strike over demand for higher commission

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