Monday, June 16, 2014
Plight of livestock breeders
Alfred E Baldacchino
The media recently reported on cases of spraying slurry on agriculture land. Some questions remain unanswered. Earlier this month, I attended a conference on the infonitrates project funded by the EU Life+ to see for myself what is being and what is not being said on the matter.
The parliamentary secretary for agriculture, fisheries and animal rights welcomed participants, emphasising the importance of nitrate in agriculture,
the need to control such use and abuse and the need for the correct management, which can have an impact on water resources and
Information was given on the work done with regard to communication, education and awareness among farmers and livestock breeders. Very
important, much needed and beneficial efforts.
The Water Services Corporation representative, before leaving, dwelt on the importance of ground water, the fact that Malta has the lowest water supply accessibility, which makes the country face chronic water scarcity and suffering drought. The worst impact on groundwater are nitrates resulting from sewage, manure from animal husbandry, salinity and sea water seepage in sewers in coastal areas.
The obligations imposed by EU directives, control, legal measures and the establishment of a nitrate committee were also outlined. And this is how it should be, though it is not fair that conditions are only imposed on the ones who register.
An expert from the German Chamber of Agriculture and another from the Israeli Agriculture Research Organisation showed the professional way forward, something the local technocrats can digest within a couple of days but, unfortunately, this can take a generation to be politically accepted and implemented.
The best part of the conference was when the participants took the floor. If only the accountable political entities were all present. No politician from either side of the House was there. Admittedly, this was not the place for such comments but breeders saw this as an opportunity to make their point, expressing the desperate state they are in. Their frustrations were loud and clear: lack of adequate water for their fields and livestock while complaining that good water was taken for free and sold to swimming pools and hotels; pains regarding the lack of additional infrastructure to manage manure; worries about the bursting storage of solid and liquid manure because of lack of adequate disposal.
One of the breeders said they are not allowed to use slurry on their fields even during the dry season.
A comment from the head table that there are plans to install bio-digesters had a quick reaction from the floor, asking whether breeders were expected to stop feeding their livestock so that they will not excrete until the bio-digesters are in place. In short, it was all about bulls, woes and moos.
Livestock manure is a resource that can generate enough energy to make the farm completely independent of fossil fuel. It can also contribute to the production of compost, thus decreasing overhead costs. Yet…
Other official stakeholders were conspicuous by their absence. Mepa, one of the regulators for the water framework and the nitrates directives was not present. No surprise, though. Neither was the ministry responsible for the conservation of water and now also for health.
The WSC was present only momentarily for the brief presentation on the precarious water situation and the negative impact of nitrates. Neither was there anybody from the health directorate to listen to problems raised.
Considering the lack of coordination and mismanagement of the subject since accession to the EU, it felt more like shooting the bull.
were all present ”
A breeder told me that they had been given a concession to empty liquid waste in the sewer despite problems caused to the treatment of sewage water and notwithstanding the fact that, in their area, the sewers were old, lacking any pipes but hewn in the bedrock. Problem solved, well, at least, no one can see it.
I pitied the agriculture official on the head table who not only was forsaken but was literally deserted. He could somehow manage technical questions but in no way could he give political answers or explain the duties of other government entities.
The lack of coordination hit one in the face. The absence of technocrats from other entities to help livestock breeders with their difficulties was an indication that these did not have any political backing or vision to do so.
Admittedly, this is not an easy task. The management of animal waste cannot be solved by one isolated government entity. Past mismanagement and lack of proper planning do not help either.
This community of legal livestock breeders does not seem to qualify as a minority deserving political backing despite the stiff competition from
overseas, the adverse economies of scale, its 24/7 commitment to the livestock, the adverse climatic conditions and the risks taken to make ends meet.
On the other hand, the fact that this community does not have any representative who can handle not only the technical aspects of their labour but also legal, social and ecological matters is not beneficial to breeders either.
Having heard cries of pain from those who aired their voice, I left the conference not convinced at all that there is a clear vision of how to take the bull by the horns.