Finding alternative solutions to sacrificing agricultural land to pave the way for new roads at Mrieħel was possible if all stakeholders are consulted, the Malta Youth in Agriculture (MaYA) said on Tuesday.

In a statement, it expressed dismay at Infrastructure Malta’s plans to sacrifice 20 tumoli of irrigated land in Mrieħel, noting that the roadbuilding trend “has already cost the country huge swathes of arable land and open spaces”.

The project, which has been shrouded in secrecy, was revealed by Moviment Graffitti over the weekend.

Although safeguarding agricultural land should not come at a cost to road safety, MaYA said it is positive alternative solutions may be found when all stakeholders are consulted. 

The NGO welcomed the interventions of President Emeritus Marie Louise Coleiro Preca and former Prime Minister MEP Alfred Sant, who both expressed their concern at the intention to build new road junctions at the expense of arable land, noting that this latest development piles further misery onto the farming sector in Malta. 

Infrastructure Minister Ian Borg has, however, defended the plans to expand the Mrieħel bypass, saying those who have spoken out against it should inform themselves before criticising the project.

“This case brings to the fore the various issues already faced by farmers when it comes to land use. Farmers are constantly under threat, because projects such as these may throw them out of a livelihood at any time. In addition to this, we are yet to see the repercussions of a recent constitutional case related to the lease of agricultural land, an issue which has been neglected by subsequent administrations and which will cause further damage to the sector,” MaYA said.

Quoting statistics from the European Environment Agency, MaYA said agriculture remains the primary land user in Malta (51%), and due to the lack of forests, it also represents the only green lung left on the islands.

Malta, it noted, is also the most densely populated EU state with 22% of its area classified as urban. “The number of dwellings approved in ODZ areas has increased over the past years, meaning that a sealed (built) area will never be returned to its original state.”

It said that while the public may have become more sensitive to the importance of open spaces for their recreational value, awareness needs to be raised about food security, the livelihoods of rural communities and the conservation of rural traditions, all of which are widely acknowledged by the European Union in its reports.

MaYA also sounded out a warning about the potential impact of EU funds dedicated to agriculture, saying these hinged on a clear government strategy and the approval of Rural Development Plans. 

The NGO called on the government to introduce a no-tolerance approach on the further loss of agricultural land. Rural and urban planning, it said, should go beyond the five-year mandate of a political party, and a long-term vision is needed to “make good use of EU funding whilst allowing farmers to maintain a crucial role in the landscape and territorial management”.

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