A sign at the edge of an arid Bulebel field is the only tangible development in the bid to revive the successful Midd Idejk fil-Biedja (try your hand at farming) project.
The site was meant to replace allotments given to people at Għammieri to grow their own fruit and vegetables but, one year on, it remains nothing more than a patch of land with yellow weeds.
The original project, launched in 2011, involved 57 allotments, each 50 square metres in size, for citizen cultivators to use. It was so popular, the scheme was oversubscribed.
Allotments were distributed on a first-come-first-served basis and against a yearly €100 fee, for which cultivators also got free water and fortnightly lectures on organic farming.
Yet, this positive initiative came to a grinding halt early last year when cultivators received a letter informing them they had to abandon their patch within three months.
The letter also said that the pilot project had to relocate because Għammieri was never intended to be a permanent base. It said their contract would be renewed and the Environment Ministry had been given a tract of land in Bulebel as an alternative site.
The ministry promised to contact interested parties “in the near future” so they could visit the site. But government enthusiasm for the project has waned.
“The pilot project provided a wide learning curve for us that amply showed that such a scheme was not practical in an experimental farm like Għammieri,” the Parliamentary Secretariat for Agriculture told Times of Malta.
The reasons for not extending this scheme were largely related to the gross negligence of some plot holders who failed to abide by the rules
Cultivators themselves were blamed: “The reasons for not extending this scheme were largely related to the gross negligence of some plot holders who failed to abide by the rules.”
While the popularity of the project was acknowledged, the secretariat said conflict among plot holders was rife: “Security arrangements at Għammieri became overstretched and, many months later, conflicts between the individual plot holders became the order of the day.
“Besides reports of theft and pilferages of the produce, the irrigation network installed was often tampered with, resulting in unequal distribution of water or flooding in other areas.”
This contrasts with what Times of Malta witnessed on a visit to the site in 2012 when the newspaper reported a peaceful community grateful for the chance to be able to pass the time and grow their own produce.
Some cultivators still keen on seeing the project running also denied the accusations of conflict.
But the secretariat has given up on the project: “The site in question has since been tilled and is now used to grow animal fodder for the Maltese oxen herd kept at Għammieri.”
When asked when the Bulebel site would be available, the secretariat said it would depend on the Water Services Corporation, which owned the land.
For the project to go ahead, plot owners would have to buy irrigation water from the WSC’s polishing plant and provide a financial bond as guarantee against damage to equipment.
This is a burden the secretariat does not want to carry: “The financial implications involved were too risky to be shouldered... the Rural Development Department is still awaiting a reply from WSC, if this department is to be involved at all.”
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