“In Peaceful Fields”, a painting by Andrei Mylnikov.
Collective farm propaganda.Between 1928 and 1933, the Soviet Union policy of collectivization consolidated land and labour. Instead of being paid wages, the labourers were given a share of the farm’s products after the state had taken its portion. In the Ukraine, the collectivization imposed by Stalin caused disastrous famines in 1932 and 1933 that killed millions. Agriculture did not recover to pre-collectivization levels until the 1940s.

Some economic history annals have it that when a series of dictators took over the running of the Soviet Union, and there had then followed a strict policy that all economic activity was thenceforth state policy and property, and all possessions of agricultural land and implements were in fact state and not private possessions, and hence all production was carried out under total state tutelage, there had then however in fact been acceded to private citizens one small exception: small production for domestic consumption of certain agricultural products like tomatoes, potatoes, fruit, and similar, carried out on such small front and back gardens, well that could be retained by the producer individuals (not companies!) and even exchanged with relatives and neighbours.

Well such annals also record that production from such small holdings was, when aggregated, found to be so efficient and large that it far exceeded what the other much larger state holdings of agricultural land was producing of those same products.

Fast forward, in both time and distance, and one can invite anyone flying in a plane over Malta to look down and try to deduce what is the extent of land in Malta (private and/or public) which is utilized and what is the extent of that which is simply lying fallow and unutilized.

It is well known that government in Malta labours from the big failure of not having a proper full and complete land ownership register (commonly known as cataste) register. One (another among others!) consequence of this big failure is that there factually exists a lot of land – fallow, garrigue, and what not – which is simply rotting away unproductively in these islands.

Can such national assets continue to be allowed to rot away whilst the country continues to spend big monies to get a large part of its food wherewithal from other countries? Continuing to persist with such abandonment is helping to let persevere such currently chronic realities as a steadily decreasing amount of farmland (a drop of some 6% over the past decade), falling number of agricultural holdings (some 15% over the same period), a decreasing number of workers below 45 years engaging in agriculture as their calling. With these, and other, realities one will not wonder that the ever-increasing possibility of a total demise of agriculture in Malta is a prospect not at all based in any fantasy.

Unfortunately it seems that most ministers of agriculture that this country have had over recent decades have shown next to nothing by way of innovative and/or brave thinking. And the two must always inseparably go together How many of them, for example, have openly resisted – if needs be even with their cabinet colleagues – the Planning Authority’s running rampant with the granting of permits for building on land which in the past was used for agricultural production? How many of them have carried out studies, and made recommendations, and taken real on-the-ground action, aimed at ensuring that every single square inch of this country is, if not already built upon or used as roads, be used for agriculture purposes?  How many schemes have they created which grant land everywhere in Malta and Gozo freely to people who want to use land for agricultural production purposes?  The point remains a simple one: the continued increased loss of economically valuable land assets must simply stop in this country.

None of the electoral campaign manifestos of all the parties contesting the last general elections feature such brave and innovative thinking to really help agricultural production in Malta.  It seems that as a nation we continue to persist with this psychosis of holding sacred anyone’s right to property even to the extent of allowing such owners of property to leave their assets to deteriorate away into disuse and eventual next-to-total ruin.  This really is obscene thinking and reasoning.

Every single inch of this country – a very small one to boot – is valuable. As a nation we simply cannot afford to allow this present situation to persist.