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After Latest Eviction Of Maltese Farmers, NGO Urges Fair Solution To Agricultural Lease Dilemma

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Local authorities must find a way of ensuring that landowners’ property rights are respected, while also ensuring the viability of the agricultural sector, the agriculture NGO Għaqda Bdiewa Attivi has said. 

Several local farmers are currently facing the threat of losing their land, potentially leading to grave consequences on the industry as a result of a recent constitutional court decision that found that laws governing agricultural leases in Malta breached land owners’ property rights. 

According to Maltese law, no changes can be made to the terms of such leases, unless agreed to by both landowner and the lessee. 

The decision has potentially opened the floodgates to many more similar cases of landowners who have been trying to get their land back for years but who have been unable to do so because of the country’s laws. 

The exponential increase in the price of land seen over the past years has increased landowners’ desire to retake ownership of their land substantially. 

In recent days, the Agricultural Leases Board confirmed the eviction of two farmers, whose land has been rented under these same lease conditions. Nazzareno and Antonia Pulis are now facing eviction, and have been given less than 30 days until the field they work must be handed back to the landowner.

Reacting to the decision yesterday, Għaqda Bdiewa Attivi accused the Prime Minister of not doing enough to safeguard the industry. 

“It’s useless that the Prime Minister is telling us that agriculture should be an economic pillar, or Owen Bonnici telling us that we should be giving more importance towards the production of food in the country if agricultural land is being taken away from us.”

“How can farmers produce food without land? How can food be produced if agricultural land is being taken away and turned into buildings?” Għaqda Bdiewa Attivi said. 

It questioned whether “other interests were in place” that were stopping authorities from looking out for farmers’ interests. 

Lovin Malta spoke to Malcolm Borg, coordinator of Għaqda Bdiewa Attivi, to better understand what the group was proposing. 

“I think the land owners’ rights should be upheld, and there’s no question about that, the prices are way too low as they are,” Borg said. “However, with that being said, it is to be made sure that the new rent prices will be affordable for the farmers, and not entirely out of reach.”

He added that “new rent prices should not be based on the market value of the land,” stressing that this could have serious consequences on farmers, leaving them with no choice but to abandon their practice.

Borg also addressed the fact that the land was earmarked for agricultural activities, meaning that its sole purpose was that of producing crops and not recreational activities.

He added that any proposal put forward needed to be a balanced one, so it would be fair for all parties involved.

Nationalist Party chief spokesperson Peter Agius also weighed in on the issue. 

“Solidarity with all the farmers affected by this. The Government needs to quicken the pace of updating the regulation of the Agricultural Lease. Only then we can have a clear idea of which land is owned by the Government, and which is owned privately, so the land can be allocated for those farmers that were forced out of private land.”

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When Sasha (formerly known as Sasha Tas-Sigar) is not busy writing about environmental injustice, she's probably fighting for women's rights. Follow her at @saaxhaa on Instagram, and send her anything related to the environment, art, and women's rights at [email protected]

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