InfoNitrates Life+ Project

InfoNitrates Life+ Project

Information and Communications Campaign for the Proper Use and Management of Nitrates in Agriculture and Livestock Breeding

Life10 INF/MT/000092

             Info Nitrates Project Logo (image containing a layer of soil, sprouting a leaf which is connected to a bottom layer underneath t                             Life + Logo (blue background, with EU stars circling the word life)

Fertilisers help in replenishing our soils, preserving fertility and sustaining the world's growing need for food. Through the years, however, the excessive application of fertilisers led to a huge environmental problem: nitrates pollution.

Malta's groundwater bodies were found to be very vulnerable to nitrate pollution. In fact, all Maltese territory was designated as one Nitrates Vulnerable Zone.

In 2008, the Malta Resources Authority carried out a detailed monitoring programme of the quality of all groundwater bodies in the Maltese Islands. From fifteen groundwater bodies monitored, only three water bodies had nitrate levels below the 50mg/l permissible threshold set by the European Commission. The other groundwater bodies all contained high levels of nitrates.

In that same year, a study conducted by the British Geological Survey, on behalf of the Malta Resources Authority, found that leaching of nitrates from cultivated soils and derivation from animal wastes were likely to be the main sources of nitrates pollution in groundwater bodies.

Nitrates used in agriculture in the form of organic and chemical fertilisers have been a major source of water pollution in Malta and in Europe. It was for this reason that the European Union introduced the European Nitrates Directives (91/676/ EEC).

The European Nitrates Directive, drawn up by the European Commission in 1991, aims to protect water quality across Europe by preventing nitrates from agricultural sources from polluting ground and surface waters. This Directive forms an integral part of the Water Framework Directive and is one of the key instruments in the protection of waters against agricultural pressures.

This European Nitrates Directive was transposed in Maltese legislation under the Environment and Development Planning Act (Chapter 504) and entered into force on January 14, 2003. As part of the implementation of the Directive, the Ministry for Resources and Rural Affairs drafted the National Nitrates Action Plan​ (NAP). This Action Plan contains measures that cover all aspects of agricultural production to reduce the levels of nitrates. It targets the contamination of both surface and ground waters from nitrates derived from both organic and inorganic fertilisers.

The European Nitrates Directive (1991) and the National Nitrates Action Plan are important instruments in the protection of water quality against nitrate pollution. Even if the goals and guiding principles of the directive are clear and the associated Action Plan has been adopted nationally, compliance has proved to be quite demanding for Malta. For this reason, the Ministry for Resources and Rural Affairs has decided to carry out an extensive information and communications campaign that aims to communicate to Malta's farmers their key obligations under the European Nitrates Directive and the associated Action Plan.

The project titled Information and communications campaign for the proper use and management of nitrates in agriculture and livestock breeding (LIFE10INF/MT/000092) is budgeted at 1,388,584€ of which 689,339€ will be financed through the European LIFE Programme. The project will last until December 2013. This information and communications campaign is designed to provide farmers and livestock breeders with information and training to act in accordance with the European Nitrates Directive and the associated Action Plan.

Throughout the campaign, all 849 full-time farmers and all 1,739 part-time farmers who hold more than 1.5 hectares of land will be receiving individual training. During these training sessions the farmers will be provided with soil analysis kits and given training on how to use them. In order to reach all farmers, there will be persons available at the wholesale vegetable and fruit market at Ta' Qali to assist farmers in any queries they might have in relation to the Nitrates Action Plan. There will also be scientific officers, working at the Plant Health Directorate, who will be carrying out soil analysis for an additional 3,000 farmers.

Training sessions will also be held with all the 925 livestock breeders to communicate effectively the key information messages of the campaign so that the project's objectives are realised.

There is also planned a number of village meetings to give the opportunity to farmers and livestock breeders to exchanges their views, ask questions and obtain further information. These village meetings will be taking place in different localities around Malta and Gozo.

Informative brochures and DVDs containing a detailed explanation of the obligatory measures that lie within the Nitrates Action Programme will be distributed to all farmers and livestock breeders.

The project's key objectives include:

  1. To assist farmers and livestock breeders to comply with the obligations of the Nitrates Directive.
  2. To make farmers and their households aware of the harmful effects on health of excessive application of nitrogen that contaminate groundwater resources.
  3. To make livestock breeders and their households aware of the harmful effects on health of improper management of animal manure that contributes to contamination of groundwater resources.
  4. To train farmers in changing their farming practices so that nitrogen levels in soil are reduced through the correct application of nitrogenous fertilisers.
  5. To train livestock breeders in the proper management of animal manure so that nitrogen levels in soil are reduced.

Besides having beneficial effects on the environment, compliance with the National Nitrates Action Plan will also save farmers money. During the training sessions prominence will be given to the importance of implementing a fertiliser plan. Such plan will be based on the crop plan for a particular year. This plan will include details on the amount of fertilizers and animal manures that need to be applied to the different crops in a particular year.

In this way, the farmers can save on fertilisers by applying only the necessary amounts while protecting the environment.