Gozo seems to be living up to the stereotype image of being the land of sheep, because there are 403 sheep farms and 223 goat farms on the small island, the agriculture minister told parliament last week.
With a total of 626 farms, this means that in Gozo, which presently has a population of around 34,500, there is a farm for every 56 people living there.
Anton Refalo was replying to a parliamentary question by Nationalist MP Chris Said, who asked him how many licensed farms there are in each locality. The information that Refalo tabled in parliament shows that Nadur boasts the most sheep farms – 68 – and Xewkija houses the most goat farms – 43.
Marsalforn has only one sheep farm and two goat farms.
Said also asked Refalo how many sheep and goats every farm is allowed to rear, but Refalo did not provide an answer.
Gozo is well-known for its fresh, dried and peppered cheeselets which are produced on these farms and the Planning Authority received 71 applications to build new sheep farms or extend existing ones in the past seven years.
While Gozo boasts a rich sheep farming tradition, planning applications for the development of new farms have been flagged by activists as ripe for abuse.
Developers, some fear, might seek to obtain permits to build farms in valleys and the countryside, only to later transform the structures into storerooms, residences or commercial projects.
In one such case, a planning application was submitted last October to add a residence, retail outlet, guest rooms and other commercial spaces to a massive Bidnija “sheep farm” that had raised objections when it was first approved for construction in a previously untouched valley.