TR Associates aims to generate new methodologies and technologies to approach rural and peri-urban territories weakness and strengths in Malta by a “model of social farming” and follow the entire short food supply chain for the sustainable eco-production. The main ingredients of functional food (spices and medical herbs) will be produced in a land of Birkirkara which combine an used water recycling, rain water harvesting and already installed (but need to renovate) irrigation system. Circular Rural Living Lab Malta will be setting up in St Julians supporting all aspects of the open innovation based business ecosystem. The involvement of each key stakeholders (religious and social care organisations, farmers, nutritionists, customers, logistic companies, wholesalers, reform food shops, innovative AgroTech SMEs, startups etc.) is crucial to take a part in the new rural circular economy platform. Today, we’ll know how TRA participates in LIVERUR project. 

The development of LIVERUR project in Malta.

The preparatory work in Malta has started in May 2019, when TRA organised an one day session with the main stakeholders. With Mr Andre Vassallo Grant, who is the general director of the Church Homes for the Elderly, we visited five sites in Malta to have an overview about the actual social care system in Malta for retirement under the Church. Next to Birkirkara, we had a meeting with Mgr. Anthony Cassar, who is responsible for the well known Retirement and Assisted Living Home, called Dar Tal-Kleru with an empty agricultural land  (1.2 ha). We walked through the available land around the huge building , which perfectly can be used  for agricultural activities, with an old non-operational pipeline, built for water irrigation system from rain water. To share the social farming concept, we had to organise few another meetings as well regarding the growing necessity to product ingredients for functional food. We spoke with few customers , like with private people who suffering from food intolerance since years and, and nutritionists, who gave us some practical tips on the demand side. All the necessary preparatory actions have been done to take the next steps.

TRA’s next activities

Our next activities are scheduled for mid of November in presence of farmers, agricultural advisors, social care and voluntary organisation representatives. In order to start with the pilot, one day meeting will be organised for the practical start with seed growers.  Few functional food experts will be invited also to support us in terms of better knowledge of the high nutritional and medicinal values of the planned plants. Based on our prior one-to-one people discussions we are aware that we will producing spices & medical herbs (like holy basil , peppermint , ginger , thyme , and turmeric) as raw materials.

TRA has a request to the management of the Church Homes for the Elderly to receive a building for the operation as a Circular  Rural  Living Lab in St Julians, in another Home for Retirement, called Casa Leone under the support of Church in Malta. The building needs a refurbishment. The refurbishment work is planned to carry out in December/January based on the next November operational meeting with the main stakeholders.

Independently of those topics, we also would need to check the (rain) water storage and pipeline problems, which is non used since long years, in Birkirkara in the land.

LIVERUR impact in Malta

TRA noted that a consumer demand for healthier food products is driving innovation and the development of new functional food products. This in turn can increase the demand and value for the seeds, grown by the farmers, voluntary and social car  people in rural areas.  TR Associates  started its innovative activity on social farming in Malta as a pioneer in this context. The pilot project within LIVERUR is a first attempt to better understand the local needs, practices and build a pilot action, give support to establish a social enterprise and find the relevant business models for the sustainable operation in order to give recognition to social farmers across Malta. In Malta as also in Europe and beyond there is an increasing demand and consensus around the social services in rural areas.  Social farming offers the opportunity to work with plants among small groups of people. There is reported impacts about the therapeutics effect for less empowered people involved in social farming. In the pilot actions in Malta, TRA will work in rural and peri-urban areas as well for local population. By social farming we believe to receive increased attention from multiple stakeholders in recent times, explicitly in the production of functional foods (medical herbs and vegetables). We strongly believe that the social farming would be a legally recognised and formalised activity in Malta, like actually in Netherlands or UK as well.

The improvement of the agriculture in Malta

Even though agriculture only contributes to less than 2% of national GDP in Malta, the sector is very important locally for the food and beverage industry, for employment (especially part-time) and for upholding the rural character and landscape of the Maltese Islands. Apart of those impacts, water is one of the key challenges for agriculture in Malta. National water resources are considered among the most stressed in the world, due to the limited local resources which is a very complex problem in Malta. We must add the high population density and pressure to use water more as well.

The pilot in Malta by our objectives will develop a method about the renewal of the existing pipelines and irrigation systems, using the rainwater harvesting in small scale. The rainwater should be collected in the tank or on roof and transported with gutters to a storage reservoir, where it provides water at the point of consumption for agricultural use. Rainwater harvesting can supplement to the weak local water sources, to become scarce or are of low quality like brackish groundwater or polluted surface water in the rainy season, which is a huge problem in Malta.

There are still different ways of identifying social farming (like farming for health, green care, social farming etc.) as a way to use agriculture for social purposes. Social Farming is both a new and a traditional concept. It originates from the traditional rural communities  where we recognised  the rise of the public welfare system. Until now, Social Farming seems to have been an under-recognised area and system to be used in the multifunctional agriculture. In the context the Social Farming may usefully fit with many urgent societal issues in both rural and peri-urban areas. It could play an active role in rural development processes in Malta in order to improve the local livelihoods and support the economic viability.

In that respect we are certain that a new generation of new local farmers (young entrepreneurs and woman) can actively contribute to improve healthcare services and to support rural everyday life as a new way in the employment in rural communities.  They could be active in the production, short food supply chain and product development as well.

Social farming offers also an unique opportunity to work with plants (medical herbs and vegetables) among small groups of people. There is evidence about the therapeutics effect for less empowered people involved in social farming. In many cases such practices are organised in peri-urban areas for local urban populations. They enable services to expand their supply and offer the opportunity to build new bridges between cities and the countryside.

Therefore the network of various collaborators (users, stakeholders, customers) could have an important role in the reformulation of the vibrant and innovative agriculture in Malta.