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MALTATODAY 9 October 2022

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12 NEWS maltatoday | SUNDAY • 9 OCTOBER 2022 MARIANNA CALLEJA MALTESE farmers are see- ing the light at the end of the tunnel in their fight to retain agricultural land free from private speculation, with im- portant amendment Bills for agricultural leases now being proposed for legislation. The first to join the chorus of approval is agriculturalist Malcolm Borg, deputy director of the MCAST department of agricultural, and a founder of Għaqda Bdiewa Attivi (GħBA), who said the proposed laws are prioritising Malta's food pro- duction. "At last, a policy is un- derway to ensure the main raw material needed by genuine and active farmers to harvest the nation's food supply," Borg told MaltaToday. For the past two years, Borg and Għaqda Bdiewa Attivi has been pushing the government to address anomalies within the existing agriculture leases law, since a landmark case declared that Malta's price and tenure controls on private agricultur- al land leased out to farmers, breached owners' rights to their property. The decision led to a flood of over 100 eviction cases that, left unaddressed, would have sacked farmers from the lands they tended to and the crops they grow. Now a proposed reform is defining the status of farmers, distinguishing between active farmers, hobby farmers, and newcomers seeking to start on this career. "There has always been a spectrum of farmers, but the clearest distinction is that of commercial farmers and non-commercial farmers. I would define commercial farmers as those who produce their products for me and you to buy," Borg says. While hobbyists could still be harvesting agricultural prod- ucts for their own families, technically they are not provid- ing for the national food sup- ply. Enriching the nation's food supply, to complement Malta's food imports, had always been the the government's original intention. The situation in the past two years – namely the COVID-19 pandemic and Rus- sia's invasion of Ukraine – have only further highlighted the importance of securing the na- tional food supply. However, it would have been discriminatory for part-timers not to be included in this bill, as some part-time farmers tend to work and produce agricultural products as much as any full- time farmer. With a stop-gap measure to address issues raised by the Constitutional Court, land- owners will now have the right to lay down conditions on ag- ricultural leases but a separate authority will safeguard private agricultural land within estab- lished rural zones, and operate a 'cadastre' register for admin- istration of such land. The reform will create green zones which can be excluded entirely from potential spec- ulative development. Also proposed are tax measures to incentivise agricultural land acquisition, by exempting farmers leasing agricultural land from inheritance tax; fis- cal incentives for landowners who lease their rural lands to farmers; and taxing agricultur- al land that is not used for agri- cultural purposes. The rental price of fields will also not be increasing by more than 1.5% of the land valuation. Agricultural land will start to be valued as agricultural land and not at the market price, like other commercial lands in the area; and residential farms will be considered as pre-1995 leases, so rent subsidies will apply to them according to the latest amendments to the pro- tected leases law. Potential farmers fear no land to cultivate Borg thinks the proposals will clear up an assortment of issues plaguing Maltese agri- culture. Good governance of agricultural land will help bet- ter manage fields according to the demands of active farmers, be they new or veterans. Borg adds that it's the new farmers who are facing the most diffi- culty when searching for land. Younger farmers, whose ances- tors already owned land, could easily keep cultivating that land. On the other hand, new farm- ers can come armed with a di- ploma or degree, yet have no land to cultivate on the oth- er. "At MCAST, I met several students each year who admit that even though they would love to enrol in an agricultural course, they won't. They feared that once they graduate and open their own enterprise, they would not find fields to till. They always ask, 'where would I start?' And as right as they were, I never knew how to an- swer them." Now the government is pro- posing the creation of an au- thority to operate a 'cadastre' register that will record sales, rentals, and use of private agri- cultural land, as well as acquir- Light at the end of the tunnel for farmers Farmers hope a new authority to manage agricultural land leased to them by private landowners, will secure the national food supply by protecting them from the market's extortionate prices for rural land "At last, a policy is underway to ensure the main raw material needed by genuine and active farmers to harvest the nation's food supply." Malcolm Borg

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