Farmers in France and Belgium are currently taking to the streets.
In France, the protests are primarily driven by concerns over price pressures, taxes, green regulations, and unfair competition. The French farmers are particularly frustrated with the country’s strict environmental rules which prevent them from using certain agricultural products that are still legal in neighboring countries like Italy. They are also protesting against low wages, low pensions, and the burdensome amount of red tape they face. The French Prime Minister, Gabriel Attal, has acknowledged these issues and promised to take additional measures to address the farmers’ complaints.
In Belgium, farmers are staging protests and road blockades as well, with the primary grievances being strict EU environmental standards and declining incomes. Their protests have included actions such as go-slow and road blockades on major roads and highways across the country. Major demonstrations have been planned in cities including the capital, Brussels, to coincide with significant events like the Special European Council meeting convening tomorrow.
Both in France and Belgium, these protests are a part of a wider expression of discontent among European farmers who are facing similar challenges and pressures.
The situation in Malta
In contrast, farmers in Malta are receiving significant support from the government through various initiatives and schemes. The Maltese government is actively supporting local farmers with subsidies to mitigate the impact of rising animal feed prices, primarily caused by the war in Ukraine.
In 2023, a €12 million temporary subsidy scheme aimed at stabilising prices for flour and animal feed was announced. This subsidy is an extension of a scheme introduced in 2022 as a response to global price hikes due to the conflict between Russia and Ukraine. The scheme is especially targeted at flour and cereals importers, with the broader goal of stabilising food prices in light of international pressures.
Additionally, the government has set aside €2 million from the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development to provide direct allowances to farmers for subsidising the increased cost of animal feed. Starting from August last year, eligible farmers began receiving these allowances, which vary from €100 to €600 for each animal, depending on the size of their cattle, sheep, and goat herds. The maximum amount a farmer can receive is capped at €15,000. This scheme is benefitting around 240 farmers, particularly those involved in the production of milk, beef, sheep, and goats.
These subsidies are part of the government’s commitment to investing in the agricultural sector and supporting farmers, who are facing significant cost pressures due to external factors like international conflicts. The allocation of substantial funds demonstrates the government’s recognition of the importance of the agricultural sector and its role in ensuring food security and stability in Malta.
Supporting farmers and the environment
In a meeting with the European Commissioner for Agriculture Janusz Wojciechowski two days ago, Prime Minister Robert Abela discussed the use of public funds and European resources for initiatives that support farmers and promote ecological methods in agriculture. Malta has introduced several schemes in this regard, including those that benefit young people trained to work in agriculture, with €190 million allocated to the Maltese Multiannual Financial Framework for these initiatives.
The government is also committed to protecting farmers and their agricultural land. Changes in agricultural leasing legislation approved by Parliament aim to address concerns that have affected farmers for years, ensuring the sustainability of farming, food production, and the protection of the rural environment.
In addition to these measures, Malta has received €166 million in European funds for its agricultural sector. These funds are part of Malta’s Strategic Plan on the Common Agricultural Policy, which aims to make the agricultural sector more sustainable, resilient, and modern. The funds are intended to help Maltese and Gozitan farmers receive fair wages for their work and encourage investment in sustainable and diverse projects.
Legal assistance is also being provided to farmers at risk of eviction from privately rented land. The Ministry for Agriculture, Fisheries, and Animal Rights is offering support through the Agriculture Advisory Services (AgriConnect), helping farmers with court representations and other related matters.
Furthermore, the government has announced assistance schemes totaling €6.5 million for farmers and herdsmen, including a scheme specifically for start-ups by young farmers. These funds are aimed at promoting the Maltese agricultural product and assisting the growth of the country’s economy.
Of course, Maltese farmers are not immune to the issues that farmers all over Europe must deal with. One particularly challenging aspect is pesticide use. The EU law on pesticide use aims for sustainable pesticide use by reducing risks and impacts on human health and the environment. The directive encourages Integrated Pest Management (IPM), where chemical pesticides are used only as a last resort.
The European Commission has proposed a new regulation to further reduce the use and risk of chemical pesticides by 50% by 2030, in line with the EU’s Farm to Fork and Biodiversity strategies. This includes banning pesticides in sensitive areas and setting legally binding targets at the EU level. Member States, including Malta, are required to change their ways, establish their own national action plans, and have their own national reduction targets within defined parameters, to ensure EU-wide targets are met.
To mitigate another issue, that of declining incomes among farmers, the Maltese government has implemented several measures as part of its 2024 Budget. These measures aim to strengthen the agricultural industry by providing assistance to young farmers for the purchase of agricultural land and eliminating the succession tax on agricultural land that is leased to or worked by professional farmers.
Yet another point of concern is climate change and its impacts on farmers. In fact, in the Budget for 2024, action against climate change has been identified as a key priority. The Maltese government is focused on achieving climate neutrality by 2050 and has established the Climate Action Authority to work towards this goal. Several schemes have been initiated starting in 2024 to use energy more efficiently and to incentivize investment in renewable energy.
CAP strategic plan for Malta
In addition, the European Commission has approved the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) Strategic Plan of Malta. This policy is designed to shape the transition to a sustainable, resilient, and modern agricultural sector in Europe.
The CAP Strategic Plan for Malta includes a total EU budget of €122 million, with €47 million dedicated to environmental and climate objectives and eco-schemes and €4.9 million to young farmers. The Plan aims to provide a fair income for farmers and workers, improve rural conditions and infrastructure, and support sustainable agricultural practices. Around €18.1 million of CAP funds will be allocated to stabilise farmers’ income, with additional support for sectors facing difficulties. The Plan also emphasises environmental action, including investments in water storage, collection, and recycling projects, and aims to increase the share of organically farmed agricultural land.