Malta’s green spaces are worth more than gold.
Malta is running out of green space. Urban overdevelopment, climate change, and foreign bacteria and pests are placing an enormous pressure on the country’s landscape. Recently, Tricia and I had the chance to take a tour of one of the few remaining patches of green on the island and sample local products. Over a hot cup of Maltese spiced-coffee, we enjoyed slices of fresh bread drizzled in local olive oil, honey, and sprinkled with delicious rosemary.
Climate change is drying out this island archipelago in the Mediterranean. This winter was the driest in 93 years for Malta – a challenge for a country that is already producing 56% of its fresh water from ocean desalination. For non-irrigated green spaces that are dependent upon rain water, particularly olive trees, this will severely diminish crop yields in the fall.
The islands of Malta encompass 316 km2 and have a population of 423,000, making it one of the most densely populated countries in the world. As a result, land management should be a strategic imperative for Malta and breaking ground on new land should be an extremely rare occurrence. This is especially true if 15% of the Maltese economy, or €1.2B, is based on tourism.
Unfortunately, the government’s forecast of 3.8% growth in the tourism sector over the next 10 years will not be sustainable if scenic green spaces continue to be threatened. Repurposing the 72,000 properties that currently stand unoccupied in the country is a far wiser strategy than encouraging new developments, and will look even wiser during the next real estate downturn.
Our olive oil tasting with Merill Ecotours brought to light the threat of invasive bacteria and pests to Malta’s ecosystem. As result of international trade and globalization, bacterias like Xylella Fastidiosa that are currently wrecking havoc on olive trees in southern Italy and are carried on cicadas and similar insects, have the potential to easily cross national borders and decimate local agriculture. The survival of Malta’s rural tourism businesses depends upon strong governmental controls on agricultural imports. However, due to Malta’s participation in the Schengen Area and its lack of border checks, the probability of harmful bacterias entering the islands increases dramatically.
Malta has an incredibly beautiful landscape and possesses fantastic rural tourism potential. It will take a concerted effort on the part of the Maltese people, tourism businesses like Merill, and respective government officials to ensure that the island’s tourism industry develops sustainably for future generations.
For more on our fantastic olive oil tasting experience in rural Malta, have a look at Tricia’s blog post.