Potato farmers are in 'utter despair' after learning they will not be able to export their crops this year because of the coronavirus outbreak.
while farmers have some 500 tonnes of the crop ready to be sold abroad, demand has dwindled and logistics have also been hit.
The crop is normally worth an estimated EUR 2 million a year to Malta’s farmers.
The head of the farmers’ lobby Għaqda Bdiewa Attivi, Malcolm Borg, said farmers only recently discovered that exporters would not be taking their potatoes.
He said the farmers would have invested thousands of euros over the past four to five months to ensure their product is of the highest quality.
Malcolm Borg, the head of the farmers’ lobby Għaqda Bdiewa Attivi:
“The farmers are desperate. This isn’t something they handle overnight but they actually invest months of their time and a lot of money.”
When the outbreak first hit, around mid-March, the lobby group had already expressed concern that farmers were uncertain of their future and whether they would be able to export Malta's most important cash crop. Their fears seem to have materialized as demand abroad continues to shrink.
Although they were only given the bad news in recent days, farmers were already struggling as prices for the crop started being significantly slashed.
According to Borg, while in 2019, one sack of 25 to 27 kilos of potatoes would sell for around EUR 12, it has gone as low as EUR 6 this year.
“It’s normal that by the end of the season we see prices going down, but this year the starting price was already much lower than in the past.”
Admitting there was not much the authorities could do to help at this point, Borg said some farmers were now looking at ways to get rid of the crop.
Some, he said, would be resorting to feeding it to their cows, though with a heavy heart, as that would mean throwing money away.
“Farmers are now just appealing for any form of help. Maybe some exporter has contracts and would be able to somehow help out.”