Farmers are threatening to cut by a third the amount of tomatoes they supply to kunserva processors if the “pittance” they receive for the produce is not improved.

The farmers make a meagre €240 profit from every tumolo of land on which they grow tomatoes for paste between February and August, according to an estimate by their association, Għaqda Bdiewa Attivi.

This payment includes a heavy EU subsidy that is only guaranteed until the end of this year.

“There is a sad reality behind the nice wrapping of a local, traditional product,” the organisation’s coordinator Malcolm Borg told Times of Malta.

“The people who produce the fresh local produce earn a pittance that under normal circumstances is not equivalent to six months’ worth of labour. Producers are twisting the farmers’ arms,” he said.

Backed by the association, around 200 tomato farmers are now calling for higher payment, under threat of a production ‘strike’ that would mean supplying 35 per cent less produce.

The people who produce the fresh local produce earn a pittance

Some of the farmers produce one tumolo worth of tomatoes while others can produce up to 70 tumoli.

They are paid a maximum of 9c per kilo by each of the three producers of the traditional tomato paste. This translates into €720 for a full tumolo of tomatoes, which is not always possible considering climate change and other issues.

But according to the association, consumers pay nearly four times as much to spread some kunserva onto a piece of bread. Taking into consideration the average price of tomato paste available on the market, the association calculates that each tumolo worth of tomatoes would rake in €2,670 for the processor.

They say that the processors depend on local farmers to make a product that is marketed as one exclusively made of local tomatoes.

The same companies are known to import tomatoes from abroad for their other products, Mr Borg said.

The organisation has asked to meet the main producer, Magro Brothers, who buy nearly three quarters of the produce, but a meeting has been postponed “for the coming weeks”.

This would be too late for farmers, who start planting seedlings in February. Questions sent to Magro Brothers were not answered before going to print.

“Most of us have sowed or are in the process of sowing the seedlings, but if things remain as is, we will cut down the produce by half for next year,” a farmer told Times of Malta.

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The farmer has had to reduce the amount of tomatoes he produces over recent years because while costs have increased, profits have not.

“It is too much work for a pittance, and farmers are growing older, not younger,” he said.

“Sometimes we find ourselves questioning why we are doing all this work for ‘nothing’… processors, who depend on us for the local produce, are not taking care of us.”

Cost of growing tomatoes

For every tumolo:
€100 worth of manure
€50 worth of fuel for tilling
€70 for irrigation pipes
€50 of plastic mulching to retain water
€120 of fertiliser
€100 of seeds and seedlings
€180 worth of pesticides
€200 for electricity to pump up water 
€350 in assistants’ labour (excluding farmers) to plant, weed and harvest
€120 to repair machinery wear and tear
Total: €1,340

Earnings from each tumolo
In 2019:
€860 in EU subsidy
€720 from the processor
Total: €1,580
Profit: €240

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