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Research and capacity building for better water management in Malta

Overexploitation, indiscriminate use and climate all play a major role in Malta’s severe water scarcity. Nowhere is this problem more serious than with its primary user – the agricultural sector.

Food and Natural Resources

“Water scarcity must be urgently addressed if agriculture is to survive in the Maltese Islands,” says Malcolm Borg, coordinator of the EU-funded FOWARIM project. However, no research facility existed in Malta to investigate and test novel techniques, systems and technologies to deal with water shortage for irrigation. “Research on water use in Malta was largely non-existent. No institution undertook research related to water,” Borg explains. Recently, the Institute of Applied Sciences within the Malta College for Arts, Science and Technology (MCAST) established the Water Research and Training Centre (WRTC) to undertake research in fields related to water management. However, the use of this precious resource in agriculture wasn’t on its radar. The WRTC holds great potential in sustaining Malta’s agricultural sector, but it must invest in research related to irrigation and water use in agriculture. This can’t be achieved without first boosting its scientific and technical capacity. Laying the groundwork for a water research culture Backed by leading European centres of excellence in water and agriculture, the project team set up a research committee in Malta to discuss, analyse and plan research in agricultural water use. Comprising Maltese representatives, the committee discussed local needs and took stock of the physical and human resources available to come up with potential research lines. Stakeholders from internationally renowned research institutions, a Scientific External Advisory Board and local actors also contributed to these lines. “This knowledge network created the right climate, conditions and framework for long-lasting sustainable research in the water field,” says Borg. “The committee will be able to continue serving as a beacon of research potential in providing solutions to the local community.” The collaborative research and activities undertaken by Maltese researchers led to eight scientific papers. “They contain results that are very significant for Malta, with wide-ranging implications for the governance and management of water in the agricultural sector,” he adds. FOWARIM strengthened MCAST’s research capacity through several targeted and advanced training courses for employees, short-term staff exchanges, summer schools and virtual training. “This capacity building has created a critical mass of local expertise that can sustain the research initiated,” notes Borg. Transferring knowledge and competencies to MCAST will accelerate the ICT adoption rate, helping to modernise agriculture and water training and research. MCAST has signed two memorandums of understanding with research institutions that will play a key role in maintaining and sustaining agricultural water use research. Translating results to the farmers on the ground Farmers are already benefiting from FOWARIM. Field experiments and demonstration sites explained how simple on-site technologies can be used to monitor and manage water more effectively. They have been educated on the role and importance of water for agriculture, and the agronomic, technical and engineering measures available to reduce water use and increase efficiency. Best practice examples also demonstrate how to reduce crop water demand. “FOWARIM ultimately benefits the farmer,” concludes Borg. “We have provided practical solutions to the real threats they face and to the viability of their agricultural businesses.” The accumulated knowledge will also assist policy-makers in better understanding the situation and designing policies and legislation to better govern and manage Malta’s precious commodity.


FOWARIM, water, Malta, agriculture, MCAST, farmer, water scarcity, irrigation, agricultural water use

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