The Nationalist Party has condemned what it called a “management by crisis” system as farmers, already hit badly by the COVID-19 pandemic, are forced to sell their own produce at the Pitkalija market from Monday 5th April.
The issue concerns an unresolved dispute between the Ministry of Agriculture and pitkalas, who act as middlemen between farmers and resellers like grocers and supermarkets.
Hundreds of farmers drop off their produce to be auctioned off by pitkala at the Pitkalija produce market in Ta’ Qali every week. Pitkalas take a commission on what they sell as part of their fee.
Pitkalas are required to pay a bank guarantee to get their licenses renewed each year, a rule introduced in 2015 after one middleman failed to pay farmers after raking in huge sums of debt. The Pitkala Association wants the guarantee scrapped, but the government says it is imperative to make sure farmers are paid on time.
On Thursday, over a thousand farmers were informed that unless the dispute was resolved by the following Monday, then farmers would have to sell their own produce.
In a statement this morning, the Ministry of Agriculture said it was concerned about mass confusion at the market next week. In order to cushion the impact, officials from the ministry will be present when it opens at 2am on Monday to help coordinate farmers selling their produce. Fruit and vegetable sellers will be allowed in the market at 4am.
Bank guarantees, the ministry said, were needed as a form of security to make sure middlemen paid all dues.
“We cannot risk having farmers not getting paid,” it said, adding that negotiations were all in good faith. However, until agreements are reached, the guarantees would remain a requirement.
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