Farmers have enlisted the help of a satellite imaging expert in their fight against the leasing of agricultural land to the highest bidder.   

Malcolm Borg, who heads farmers’ lobby Għaqda Bdiewa Attivi, said satellite images of three separate plots of agricultural land handed out for tender by the government over the past two years had exhibited no signs of farming when reviewed by an expert.

The plots of land – in Mosta, Mellieħa and Għasri – were leased by the government specifically to be used as agricultural land.

One of the satellite images studied by an expert commissioned by a farmers' lobby group.One of the satellite images studied by an expert commissioned by a farmers' lobby group.

Over the course of more than a year there was no sign of farming or other agricultural activity detected- Malcolm Borg, farmers' lobby

The expert, who the group chose not to name citing confidentiality, used indices that scientifically measure vegetation and other activity through satellite imagery.

“We engaged an expert who reviewed images of three parcels of land that had been leased by government tender,” Borg said.

“Over the course of more than a year there was no sign of farming or other agricultural activity detected.”

Government-owned farmland sold to highest bidder

The group has long been lobbying the government to stop issuing farmland by tender and Borg said it wanted to get proof that the land was not being used to grow crops. 

At present, government-owned farmland is up for grabs to the highest bidder.

And although applicants are meant to be registered farmers, Borg says many of these plots where fruit and veg once grew are now being used as recreational spaces at farmers’ expense. 

Farmers are calling on the government to enforce a capping on prices of agricultural land, as budding growers are finding it impossible to acquire their own fields to till.

With one tumolo of land – the size of about four tennis courts – going for at least €40,000, and an average of 12 tumoli needed to start a full-time agribusiness, farmers are expected to fork out half a million euros in land, over and above their investment in cultivation machinery and tools.

Farmers rely on government tenders for land as prices in the private sector are far higher. 

Agriculture Ministry in talks with farmers

Adverts seen by this newspaper show prices spike to €266,000 for two tumoli of arable land in Rabat.

One agent advertised one tumolo of agricultural land with approved permits for stables in Siġġiewi for €270,000, while another one is selling three tumoli with one large room in the same locality for €1.5 million.

Borg said he had recently raised his concerns with minister Silvio Schembri, who is politically responsible for lands. 

Contacted for comment yesterday, Schembri said that while this issue was complicated, he was seeking to address it through talks between farmers and the Agriculture Ministry. 

“Over the past year and a half, as long as I have been politically responsible for Lands, a number of issues and problems faced by farmers have been addressed,” Schembri said.

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