A reform of the Pitkalija fruit and vegetable distribution centre in Ta’ Qali and the launch of its newly founded managing body, Malta Food Agency (MFA) was announced on Wednesday.
This reform was presented by the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Animal Rights Anton Refalo, who emphasised that the adjustments will see farmers take the central focus point in all activities and ensure that they receive a more just price return for their produce.
“It didn’t make sense that farmers had no way of knowing how much of their produce was sold, to whom it was sold and at what price,” said minister Refalo.
He added: “we want to see justice, by which farmers get what is theirs”.
The Pitkalija, which generates about €20 a year and employs about 1,500 sellers, opens twice a week and is the building where middlemen known as Pitkala buy local farmers’ produce readily available in bulk who in turn auction it off to licensed hawkers, grocers and supermarkets, at a higher price.
The MFA will now assume the responsibility of the Pitkali market by implementing new systems to better manage the sale of this produce. They strive to minimise food waste, create more fair and unified product prices, as well as adopt an online system to account for the sales of the produce.
As part of this reform, market employees will be provided with a computer and printer for receipts and barcodes to enable them to register all the produce brought in by farmers and to ensure a more transparent and just system. The MFA also plans to improve the packaging and presentation of said produce.
This Pitkali reform follows a protest taken by Pitkala middleman who did not turn up to the Pitkalija in May (2021) due to the government wanting to increase the bank guarantee they pay each year to renew their license and as security for the payments of farmers (which was previously at 10% of the years sales).
In turn, they had demanded the government to raise their commision from 8% to 15%.
The minister mentioned that once these new MFA implementations are in place, the next step will be to explore new niches to export leftover local produce.
The MFA together with the Ministry expressed that the Covid-19 pandemic has attuned everyone to the importance of a more resilient, efficient and sustainable food chain.