Over the years, many jobs have changed in the way they are carried out, generally becoming more efficient.
In certain jobs, the tools have changed but the fundamentals have remained the same. Farmers fall into this category.
While many of the tasks done manually in the past have been mechanised, farmers cannot work without the land and without the crops provided through their labour. A farmer without land cannot produce or provide for his family.
Sadly, this is the situation faced by Maltese farmers right now.
This is why I started a petition in the European Parliament to address this problem with the European Commission. The job of a farmer is never easy. The tough conditions include working in the sun for long hours and for barely any profit. It is enough to discourage people from entering this industry.
Maltese farmers also have considerable difficulties in trying to compete on a fair footing within the single market, due to limitations linked to the availability of agricultural land on these islands.
Now, a constitutional court case has made things even more difficult for farmers.
The court confirmed a previous judgment that the Agricultural Leases (Reletting) Act breaches landowners’ rights to the enjoyment of property.
This spells the end of the practice of granting an indefinite right of renewal to tenants of agricultural leases.
Farmers face a new reality: their farmland is going to be valued according to non-agricultural characteristics associated with the property market. Adverts are already appearing for the sale of parcels of agricultural land marketed as recreational areas.
It is going to become impossible for genuine farmers to rent or buy agricultural land.
The judgment goes against the rulings of the European Court of Justice, which state explicitly that the fundamental right to property may be restricted in cases of farmland. This to avoid property speculation and safeguard rural communities and food production.
It is going to become impossible for genuine farmers to rent or buy agricultural land- Alex Agius Saliba
The European Parliament’s resolution on farmland concentration in the EU outlines this challenge. It says that farmland prices and rents have in many regions risen to a level that encourages financial speculation, making it impossible for many farmers to hold on to rented land.
As a solution, the European Parliament suggests that rental prices are to be linked to the productive capacity and profitability of the land. This is seen as the most appropriate model for the agricultural economy.
The resolution calls on member states to permit access to ownership or tenure under financial conditions appropriate to farming and to monitor farmland prices and rents.
It is the duty of the European Commission to protect Maltese farmers in light of these legal developments, which will increase the speculation of agricultural land and lead to forced evictions of more farmers.
It will become impossible to use agricultural land for farming purposes.
Now is the time for the European Commission to work alongside the Maltese government to enact fair laws that protect farmland, farmers and property owners alike, by taking a reasonable and balanced approach to the different interests involved.
We have a duty to understand the different viewpoints in this issue, considering that the Maltese judgments go against the rulings of the European courts and the stand taken by the European Parliament.
Let us not work against those individuals who work hard and suffer for us every day by getting rid of the source of their work.
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