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N°25 – Rain or shine


Mġarr, 8th May

I come from a long line of farmers. I took over my father’s farm with my brother in 1993. And I’ve watched the climate change. Anyone who still denies the existence of climate change is not living in the real world.

This year, we had a very mild winter in Malta, and in March we had temperatures nearing 30 degrees. This is unusual and it disrupts the whole ecosystem. What’s more, there was no rain between mid-February and the end of April. No rain for two and a half months…

I remember when I was a boy, in winter my father and I would go out into the fields and we’d sometimes come back wet. At that time of year, it could rain for two or three days in a row, a gentle, slow, pleasant rain. These days, two days of rain are very rare. In reality, it doesn’t happen anymore.

I’ve been keeping records of rainfall levels since 2013. This year, we’ve only had 247 millimetres of rain, whereas the average for Malta is 550. We’re 200 millimetres behind, which is a real problem! And even then, we’re in one of the regions of the country where there’s been the most rain. In other places, there have only been 227 millimetres: a real disaster!

Today, farmers are desperate for water to irrigate their crops.

In the 1990s, everyone had a well and drew their water from underground. It was free, so we pumped and pumped and pumped… Except that Malta is an island, a country surrounded by the sea, and our boreholes ended up filling up with salt water, which is not good for crops. Right now, our subsoil can’t meet our water needs.

To cope with the shortage, the government has developed a system for reusing waste water. This “New Water”, as it’s called, is filtered by various means and then redistributed to farmers. It’s a great alternative for continuing to have water in the future despite droughts. But for the moment, the technology is not completely perfected. As a result,  it’s not always possible to have water available on demand.

On our farm, what keeps us going are our reservoirs. Under our greenhouses we have tanks with a capacity of 4.5 million litres. We collect all the water we can in them, as soon as it rains or if there’s water available by other means. Normally, this gives us a month and a half’s supply in advance – a real breathing space – but since it hasn’t rained much, our reservoirs are almost empty!

These facilities are very expensive. We’ve been able to invest in them because we’re a family farm and we’ve received subsidies from the EU, but not everyone is so lucky. Next door to us, there are two young brothers, who are barely 25 and who depend solely on the “ New Water” from the government. They’ve had no water for a fortnight and have already lost some of their plantations. 

Whatever happens, we need rain! It’s vital. It sustains our entire ecosystem. Without it, the composition of the earth changes, it becomes very poor and sandy, and it blows away with the wind. Basically, several years like this one and our country will become a semi-desert island. So I hope next year is  a good one!

I’m 56, but I put myself in the shoes of young people and I worry about them. In this environment, on top of all the economic problems they’re facing, I’m afraid this profession will die out.

If they give it all up, our whole landscape will change. There will be a lot of fallow fields. In times of drought and extreme heat, abandoned fields mean an even greater risk of fire for the country. Agriculture accounts for 1% of Malta’s GDP, but it is essential to maintaining our environment.


Joseph is 56 years old. He comes from a long line of Maltese farmers. Because of climate change, he has had to change the pace of his planting and invest in huge reservoirs to cope with the drought affecting the country. But that doesn’t stop him from worrying about the future of the island’s land and its farmers.


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