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MaltaToday 30 October 2022

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8 maltatoday | SUNDAY • 30 OCTOBER 2022 NEWS 67% say air quality has deteriorated over past decade JAMES DEBONO THE Maltese and the Cypriots are the most likely in Europe to think that air quality in their country has deteriorated in the past decade. While 67% of Maltese believe air quality in Malta has deteri- orated, only 13% believe that air quality has improved while 13% believe it stayed the same. In all EU member states, 49% of all respondents believe that air quality has deteriorated in their country. The perception that air qual- ity in Malta has deteriorated in the past decade remains strong despite an actual decrease in emissions from power stations due to the shift from heavy fuel oil to natural gas. But the high percentage who believe that air quality has deteriorated may reflect the increase in traffic and dust from ongoing con- struction projects. A breakdown of the national statistics shows that the most likely to believe that air quality has deteriorated in Malta are those with a higher education: 71% of those who continued their education beyond the age of 20 believe air quality in Mal- ta deteriorated over the past 10 years. In contrast, among those who stopped their education at 15, the percentage falls to 59%. Moreover, 78% of Maltese and 53% of all EU respondents believe asthma caused by air pollution is a serious problem in their country. 64% of Mal- tese also say the public author- ities are not doing enough to improve air quality. And 74% think employers are not doing enough by offering or incenti- vising sustainable transport to workplaces. But while 64% of all European believe energy companies are not doing enough to cut emis- sions, that percentage falls to 57% in Malta. Only 30% said they are using public transport more – as one way to reduce air quality dete- rioration – in contrast to 41% of EU respondents. But 66% of Maltese said they have opted for more energy-efficient ap- pliances in contrast to 40% of EU respondents. Compared to 2019, when a similar survey was held, the percentage of Maltese who be- lieve that air quality has dete- riorated has actually decreased by 14 percentage points, while those who say it has improved increased by 6 points. Percentage who think air quality in their country deteriorated in past 10 years Malta 67% Cyprus 67% Spain 62% Italy 60% Luxembourg 54% Total EU 27 47% MARIANNA CALLEJA SEVERAL farmers who face rising rents from private land- owners for their agricultural leases, are still protesting that the government-mandated 1.5% of the value of the land, is still too much of a rental in- crease for them to sustain. The State's proposed reform was aimed to prevent agricul- tural leases from suffering an increase in rents equivalent to commercial, market prices but even according to lawyer Er- rol Cutajar, who has defended farmers facing eviction or land- owner challenges to controlled rents in the past, this is still too much for the farmer. "From my experience with farmers, the costs it takes to grow crops compared to any profit a farmer makes selling his agricultural product at the Pitkalija, is still not worth it. Raising rental prices this much would still be a burden for farmers," Cutajar said. The latest of Cutajar's cli- ents had leased a field from landowner for a paltry €24 in bi-annual rent, before a 2021 case that established an annu- al rental value of €800-€900. Cutajar said that even this ap- parently cheap rate, was a bur- den for farmers and their mea- gre profits. In 2020, Malta's agricultur- al leases regime was deemed unconstitutional for landown- ers who had their right to the peaceful enjoyment of their property breached. In light of this, the govern- ment is now proposing two legal amendments as a stop- gap measure to address the unconstitutionality of the agri- cultural leases regime, in a bid to prevent farmers from being evicted. Farmers whose farm is their only residence will be able to benefit from a rental benefit scheme from the Housing Au- thority, creating a distinction from other non-residential, ar- able lands. This reform also permits landowners to take back resi- dential agricultural structures, such as farmhouses, for their use should farmers have more than one residence. Should this happen, the farmer is still al- lowed to hold on to the field at- tached unless the owner proves to the agricultural board that the farmer does not need the land in question. This aligns to the existing law which prevents owners from evicting farmers without any proof of need. Indeed, previous cases have ruled against unnec- essary eviction attempts. "This again shows hope for a farmer who work cultivated fields, be- cause in such cases, even when someone is recognised as a ten- ant instead of the existing one, they also have to abide with these conditions," Cutajar said. To prevent inheritance abuse, children of farmers will be al- lowed to acquire their par- ents' lease for a period of eight years. A new agricultural leases authority will act as an inter- mediary, to have landowners sell any such agricultural land without heirs, to the authority or a farmer. The proposed reform docu- ment says sustainable agricul- tural activity, together with a tax on agricultural land not used for agricultural purposes, can lead to greener zones in Malta. The government could aid farmers through national funds and the EU's Common Agricul- tural Policy. The EU forks out direct payments to guarantee food security, while rewarding farmer for public benefits not normally paid for by the mar- ket. Landowners will be able to file a request to raise farming rents with the agricultural leas- es board, which will then ob- tain a valuation of the farm and crop conditions. The board will means-test farming tenants but rental increases, if approved, will be applied gradually, and not covered by any subsidy, which would otherwise be ille- gal state aid. "In that sense, the reform proposes financial assistance to encourage activity and in- vestment in the agricultural sector," Cutajar said. Lawyer to farming tenants thinks government- mandated rise for private leases could still push farmers out of agriculture 'Farmers might still quit' with 1.5% lease hike "From my experience with farmers, the costs it takes to grow crops compared to any profit a farmer makes selling his agricultural product at the Pitkalija, is still not worth it. Raising rental prices this much would still be a burden for farmers." PHOTO IAN FOKS

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