Plight of livestock breeders

June 16, 2014

 times of malta

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.

brochure

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
biodiversity.
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.

cow-1

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.

pigs

It has to be a pig to nonchalantly display the place from where processed undigested waste food is excreted out of the body. But this is only natural and it applies to all animals who have to eat. If not properly managed (and livestock cannot do it on their own) it can have a great negative impact on biodiversity.

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…

hen-1

 

 

 

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.

If only the accountable political entities

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.

rabbit

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.

manure-2

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.

aebaldacchino@gmail.com

 


Bees alert: it’s goodbye honey

August 17, 2013

times of malta

Bees alert: it’s goodbye honey

Alfred E. Baldacchino

I guess that while at breakfast, supper or dinner, few would pause on a bite to ruminate on how the fruits being served managed to reach their plate. So long as the plate is full, why bother!

Fruits start as flowers with different shapes, colours and smells. They often have sugary nectar and nutritious pollen to attract insect to pollinate them. On pollination a cycle of events is initiated leading to the production of seeds often shielded by a fruit, many of which we eat. An EU funded project has estimated that pollinators contribute to over €150 billion per year to the global agriculture economy, two thirds of which is pollinated by bees.

FD---0215---2008.01.31---Prunus-dulcis----Mtarfa

Bees are amongst the most noted natural pollinators

The Genesis explains how “God saw everything that He had made, and behold, it was very good.” But man thought otherwise, and embarked on measures to correct ‘God’s faults’ found in the ecosystem. He put chemicals on the market to do away with unwanted creatures, so that there will be more foods to ‘feed the people’, or as some may say to ‘fatten bank accounts’. Pesticides come in different forms: there are insecticides, herbicides, and fungicides. All have the same aim: to kill living creatures which are unwanted, which are contributing to a lesser yield and meagre profits.

Sprayed chemical are neither target specific nor area contained and they kill not only unwanted creatures but also beneficial insects including pollinators. They also accumulate inside bodies of those who eat contaminated food. Not even man is spared.

Pollinators, mainly bees, are being decimated at an alarming rate, and in America they are falling like confetti. Fingers are pointed at mites, cell phone towers, diseases and climate change, not excluding pesticides. A Colony Collapse Disorder where entire beehives die at once, has reared its ugly head. In the United States 31.1% of managed honey bee colonies were lost during the 2012/2013 winter. In Maryland alone, close to 60% of the managed hives died during the same period.

A recent scientific study at the University of Maryland in collaboration with the US Department of Agriculture has revealed frightening facts. Pollen gathered by bees, not necessarily from the sprayed crops, has revealed a concoction of pesticides and fungicides, some samples containing more than 21 different chemicals. When eaten by bees or fed to their grubs in the hives, it weakens them against parasites. A Chemical Concoction Drama is unfolding: collapsing bee colonies. The alarming increase of dead bees is sending a clear message to mankind: ‘goodbye honey’.

While the mega pesticide producers continue to spread their chemical concoctions and genetically modified organisms, with the ‘noble’ aim of feeding the people, pollinators continue to pay the price. Most alarming is the fact that these firms have worldwide political backing. In international political fora politicians seem more like charismatic colourful puffins, who, with apologies have been labelled as always sitting in meetings, taking decisions, and doing nothing about them. When economics come in play, controlling chemical spraying is simply impossible. Don’t get in the way, bees or no bees.

This year, following strong lobby from international NGOs, and a handful of socially convinced politicians, the EU will ban for two years the use of three of the world’s most widely used pesticides. Only 15 Member States voted in favour!

Even in tiny Malta one can see workers spraying pesticides, fungicides and herbicides, both in open fields and also along road­side verges. What for?  Some of these are central or local government workers paid from public funds. Surely, there must be at least one politician who has such responsibilities in his portfolio.

China, also has its own problems. In 1980 in parts of Sichuan, the pesticides used in pear orchards wiped out the bees, to the extent that pollination had to be carried out by hand using feather brushes. Imagine a new trade of ‘flower ticklers’, whose main work would be tickling male anthers on stamens of flowers to make them deposit their pollen on a feather brush, and then slowly, gently, transporting it and depositing it to the female stigma, to eventually reach the ovary. The flower is fertilised and your fruit formation starts. How would you liked to be a bee? Beg your pardon; this may sound a bit infra dig. So how would you like to be a flower tickler? You will have the satisfaction of knowing that most of the food on our plates will be at your fingertips. BUT… with one difference. While one bee colony can pollinate up to 300m flowers a day, FOR FREE, flower ticklers have the laborious task to reach such standards for which they have to be paid, at least minimum wages.

flower-tickler

Flower ticklers – a could-be hobson choice approach toward pollination replacing natural pollinators.

Albert Einstein, said that “if the bee disappeared off the surface of the globe, man would have only four years to live”. It is not surprising that many adjectives like fundamentalist and scaremonger were and are hurled at him. But this is also in line with another saying that insects have seen man come and they shall see man go.

If you do not want to prove Einstein right, and you do not want to be a bee, for our own sake, let bees be, honey.

aebaldacchino@gmail.com


A vision buried at Nadur cemetery

April 6, 2013

times

Saturday, April 6, 2013

A vision buried at Nadur cemetery

Alfred E. Baldacchino

The Archpriest of Nadur applied for the development of a cemetery on May 20, 2002. An outline development permit was issued on January 28, 2004 and a full development permit, valid for five years, was granted by the Malta Environment and Planning Authority on May 31, 2007. An appeal was submitted by Nature Trust on July 16, 2007 and works on the cemetery started in summer of that same year.

2012.10.00 - works in progress while the appeal keeps being postponed

Work in progress on the cemetery while the appeal board deliberated

The following documented data was made available to the Appeals Board: The development is in an ODZ (outside development zone).

There never was any public consultation.

EU Water Framework Directive obligations regarding ground water were not taken in consideration.

The locality is designated as an area of high landscape sensitivity and a land of agricultural value according to the Gozo and Comino Local Plan.

Technical staff at Mepa repeatedly recommended a refusal for such development.

Refusal was also recommended by the planning authority’s Heritage Advisory Board.

The proposed cemetery lies within the catchment area of one tributary that feeds Wied Għajn Qasab, one of the most important in Gozo.

This 6,500-square-metre cemetery footprint is on upper coralline limestone (garigue), overlying blue clay that contributes to a perched aquifer covering 5.6 square kilometres, “filtering on a good rainy season 16,000 gallons (73,000 litres) of potable natural water daily at Għajn Qasab springs”.

It is estimated that the recharge of water through percolation or infiltration amounts to 785,109 cubic metres annually.

The water catchment area around the cemetery covers 33,000 square metres.

The rock formation contains various faults, crevices and fissures, which channel rainwater to the farmers’ cisterns.

The fields dependent on the aquifer have been used for agricultural purposes for hundreds of years.

The engineering works regarding water use and storage, including bell shaped wells, galleries, channels and cisterns, date back to the time of the Knights of St John. Such network has been physically destroyed or rendered nearly useless by the cemetery.

The report by the geologist appointed by the developer, indicated that the project is unlikely to have an adverse impact on the water resources.

No hydrologist’s report was ever submitted.

The precautionary principle, a guiding principle in the EPA 2011, was completely ignored. The developer reports that the cemetery plans to cater for 643 graves, despite the fact that only 50 persons die annually in Nadur, some of whom are buried in the old cemetery.

The commercial value of the cemetery’s footprint estimates each grave at €4,000 at the time of the submisison of the appeal in 2007, showing the commercial vision of the project.

A number of letters were officially, personally and publicly written to the Prime Minister and to the minister responsible for the environment.

A number of social entities, farmers and the public expressed disapproval both of this development and of the way it was being handled.

The appeal case was heard and postponed for 19 times and, finally, a decision date was appointed for September 27, 2012, only to be postponed again.

The legal representative of the farming community wrote to the Environment and Planning Review Tribunal, emphasising that postponing the decision was jeopardising the interests of the farmers.

A hydrological report by Marco Cremona was eventually presented to the Appeals Tribunal. The study clearly states that there is no doubt about the direct hydraulic connection between the site of the cemetery and the farmers’ water source.

Affidavits by affected farmers show that, before the work on the cemetery, they had enough water for their fields. However, when the works got under way, they had to buy water for their fields and products decreased in quantity and quality.

On March 15, 2013 – the ides of March and six days after the last election – the Environment and Planning Review Tribunal informed the objectors that the original permit dated May 31, 2007 was superseded by another permit dated July 23, 2012, where the applicant presented an amended application to the original permit.

Since there was no appeal to the latter permit, the original one was now exhausted, having been superseded by the latter. Because of this, the tribunal abstained from taking further notice of the appeal.

Mepa’s vision “is to pass onto our children a better country than we inherited. It is for this very reason that we (Mepa) compare our environment to a treasure, something we dedicate our energies to, to protect, care for and improve. The environment encompasses all – nature, cultural and architectural heritage, towns and villages, the countryside, the seas and air. We (Mepa) believe that together we should carefully plan so that our heritage, this gem that we treasure, will not fade away.”

Who can possibly believe this when Mepa buried its vision at the Nadur cemetery?

2009.02.00 - The remains of a protected carob tree

The water catchment area of garigue which replenished the perched aquifer feeding and supplying water to the farming community and the valley ecosystem – BEFORE the approved rape of the ecosystem started.

Was this cemetery, to be run on a time­share basis, really needed in Nadur? Why was the precautionary principle not applied in such a sensitive and delicate ecological area with such a rare natural resource? Why where the above social and ecological negative impacts all cast aside, importance being given only to economic aspects? Was ‘the hand of god’ coerced to give the green light for such an injustice?

Jesus once entered the temple area and drove out all traders and shoppers. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves. What would He have done had He found the selling of graves in His name? It is easier to deliver 10 sermons than to live one.

“Our lives end the day we become silent about things that really matter”…“and, in the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies but the silence of our friends” (Martin Luther King).

2009.06.01 water from the acquifer

The murky water feeding the farmers’ cisterns after the work started – definitely not the clear pure potable water they were used to use before.

The dead at Nadur cemetery will haunt and curse the living.

For God’s sake, remove environmental matters from Mepa before the social and ecological fabric of these islands is completely destroyed.

aebaldacchino@gmail.com

alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com

The original article in The Times, with comments posted by readers, can be seen at the following link:

http://www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20130406/opinion/A-vision-buried-at-Nadur-cemetery.464394