Farmers have expressed grave concerns about an imported virus spreading in Malta which threatens to decimate the all-important tomato sector.

Ruben Montebello, a full-time farmer for the past decade who left the tourism industry to work in agriculture, lost five greenhouses’ worth of tomatoes due to contamination from ToBRFV (tomato brown rugose fruit virus). The farmers’ association Għaqda Bdiewa Attivi appealed to authorities to do their utmost to try to contain the virus to limit its “social damage”.

Montebello explained how his tomato crops had not even started developing symptoms before he realized they were contaminated and needed to be destroyed. “After the plant health directorate took samples from our crops towards the end of April and the result was confirmed earlier this month, we had to stop production immediately,” Montebello said.

Montebello believes the costs imposed by the losses incurred so far have already outweighed the overall negative downturn caused by COVID-19 over the past year. Without government assistance or compensation, it will not be possible to recover, he warned. “We have too many challenges in front of us, and even if we push very hard, we won’t make it through without some form of help to soften the blow,” Montebello stated. The farming community does not yet know the full scale of the problem as many tests are still ongoing.

Malcolm Borg, the coordinator of Għaqda Bdiewa Attivi, said containment measures should be socially sensitive, especially for farmers who completely depend on tomatoes. “If we can, for example, eliminate 1,000 plants rather than 3,000 in one go, it would help minimize the initial impact,” he added.

Read the complete article at www.timesofmalta.com.