Malta’s traditional ġbejna makers are culling their flocks as the Russian invasion of Ukraine sends feed prices skyrocketing.

An association of sheepherders held talks with the government last week, after a record 150 milk-producing sheep were sent for slaughter over the course of just a few days. 

Malta has a population of just under 15,000 endemic sheep used in the production of traditional cheese rounds known as ġbejniet.

Publius Falzon, who heads the Xirka Produtturi Nagħaġ u Mogħoż, told Times of Malta that sheepherders were having to drastically reduce the size of their flocks as the price of feed had increased repeatedly in recent weeks.

“It is normal for around 20 sheep to be sent to the public abattoir every week. If there are as many as 50, then it is noteworthy and we check whether there is anything particular happening.

“These past few weeks, we have seen this number climb up to 100 and now even 150. Herders are under too much pressure financially,” Falzon said.

Ukraine and Russia are the main producers of maize and barley, two of the main components in farm feed.

Falzon said that feed prices have already been on an upward trend due to the lack of raw materials caused by the pandemic, increasing by about 50 per cent in recent months.

Population of just under 15,000 endemic sheep used in the production of traditional cheese rounds

The war in Ukraine is causing further price instability and threatens to make the industry completely unsustainable, Falzon warned.

He said he had met with top brass of the agriculture ministry on Tuesday to discuss the possibility of limited state intervention.  

“There isn’t too much they can do at this point other than the limited assistance the government has already announced,” he said. 

Falzon was referring to Prime Minister Robert Abela’s announcement that grain importers have reached an agreement with the government to ensure secure supply and price stability. 

Abela said the government would soon be providing “liquidity” to importers as well as providing facilities for wheat storage at the Corradino wheat terminals. 

He did not say how much this financial assistance would amount to.

Nor did he provide any other details of the talks with importers of wheat and cereals. 

Dairy farmers have also raised concerns over the price of feed. 

Robert Cauchi, CEO of the Milk Producers’ Cooperative, has said that the increase in the price of grains is being discussed with the government to find a way forward. 

Times of Malta is informed that several poultry and rabbit breeders have also requested meetings with the government over the subject.

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