Spotlight Interviews with Cooperators

Rural cooperative works to preserve the cultural heritage of Malta

"Spotlight Interviews with Cooperators" is a series of interviews with cooperative leaders from around the world with whom ILO officials have crossed paths during the course of their work with cooperatives. For this issue ILO interviewed Ms Veronica Farrugia, Manager and Trail Coordinator of Koperattiva Rurali Manikata (KRM) in Malta, who has been with the cooperative for 10 years.

Article | 29 May 2017

Q. What is Koperattiva Rurali Manikata?

Ms Veronica Farrugia
A. Koperattiva Rurali Manikata (KRM) is a multistakeholder multipurpose cooperative founded in 2007 by local farmers and residents in Manikata, a small village in the north-western part of Malta. The main objective of the cooperative is to protect the work of the local farmers and safeguard natural, historical and socio-economic environment of the region.

Before becoming a cooperative, the founders were part of a committee founded to oppose the construction of a golf course, which was planned to take large sections from the land of Manikata and Għajn Tuffieħa villages. After two years of protests and dialogue with the local government, the committee was able to convince the government to abandon the project. In the aftermath, the area was declared as the first national park in Malta, now known as “Il-Park tal-Majjistral”. The cooperative was established in order to preserve the natural, historical and socio-economic environment.

The mission of KRM is multipurpose:
  • protect the interests of the local farmers;
  • help them diversify their sources of income;
  • create job opportunities in sustainable agro-tourism, especially for young people;
  • safeguard local traditions and rural life, especially farming, animal husbandry, bee-keeping and the production of traditional foods and drinks;
  • contribute to the protection of the local natural environment; and
  • help the Maltese people learn more about local agriculture, farmers and history.
Today, KRM has 27 members, including ten full-time and two part-time farmers. Others are in different walks of life, including teachers, a director of an educational organisation, civil servants, managers of private companies, accountants and one part-time worker employed by KRM.

One of the main activities of KRM is the management and conservation of the Manikata Rural Heritage Trail which offers various programmes to appreciate local culture and history, taste traditional dishes and learn about the cooperative’s activities. This is particularly popular among students. The trail has been used as a location for shooting various series and films including the “Game of Thrones”, “The Dove Keepers” and “Saul Journey to Damascus and Risen”.

Another main activity is the promotion of local agriculture and Maltese traditional foods. In 2008 KRM launched an Olive Green Project aiming to turn the abandoned fields in Manikata into olive groves. With the sponsorships from individuals, groups and companies, it purchased about 700 olive trees which were distributed among the farmer members and planted in their farmlands. Now, the farmers produce olive oil as a new income source. On every last Sunday of October, KRM holds a Pumpkin Feast where visitors can buy local farmers’ products and traditional sweet dishes made with pumpkin while touring Manikata village. More recently, KRM has also opened a fruit and vegetable shop near the Trail in order to promote sales of local farmers’ products.

In addition, KRM offers training courses for its members on health and safety, first aid, food handling, the use of fertilizers and pest control, the care of olive trees, etc. at a discount price.

Q. How does Koperattiva Rurali Manikata work?

A. Majority of the work is done by six committee members mostly on a voluntary basis – KRM directly employs one member on a part-time basis. Each member plays a different role: the maintenance of the Trail and care of the farm animals; the operation of the Trail tour and other events in the Trail; the management of financial issues and fundraising; and accounting for the cooperative. The current president of KRM is a farmer and in charge of providing local typical foods to be served for visitors of the Trail. Non-committee members support activities like the Pumpkin Feast. During the high season, KRM employs additional staff to support events.

KRM finances its operations mostly through the income of organizing events on the Rural Heritage Trail. It also earns a small income from the fruit and vegetable shop and through the membership fees (currently set at EUR 120). It has also raised revenues by successfully attracting the film and television industry to use the grounds as a shooting location.

KRM is registered under the cooperatives law in Malta. It pays taxes like any other enterprise and in case of generating surplus, 5 per cent is directed to the national cooperatives fund, while any remaining surplus is used for the maintenance and restoration of the Trail.

Q. What is the governance structure of Koperattiva Rurali Manikata?

A. KRM is governed under a statute developed by the members. Most of the decisions regarding regular management of the cooperative are made by the committee members who meet once a month to discuss any emerging issues. Major decisions are made at the Annual General Meeting or extraordinary meetings where overall accounts, financial status and any problems are presented, discussed and decided by all the members. The General Meeting report and annual financial report are submitted to the national cooperatives board as per the cooperative law.

Spotlight Interviews with Cooperators is a series of interviews with cooperative leaders from around the world with whom ILO officials have crossed paths during the course of their work with cooperatives. The responsibility for opinions expressed in this interview rests solely with the interviewees, and the article does not constitute an endorsement by the International Labour Office.