This year’s edition of the Malta Sustainability Forum (MSF), held at the end of January, came at a time when the whole world is fighting a pandemic that has upended our lives and has highlighted the vulnerability of our planet, as well as that of particular sectors of society.
The MSF agenda offered several modules covering myriad areas of sustainability including Ocean Plastic Pollution, International Cooperation, Food for Planetary Wellbeing, The Doughnut Economic Model, Pitching for Good, Leading with Purpose, The Transition to a Carbon Neutral Society, Women, Sustainability Reporting, and Youth Proposals for a Better Future.
With numerous local and international experts on hand sharing their experiences, these are GITH’s top ten takeaways from the Food for Planetary Wellbeing module, the Pitching for Good module, and the module dedicated to Women:
Choose local, choose small-scale
Malcolm Borg, Deputy Director of MCAST’s Centre of Agriculture, Aquatics and Animal Sciences, warned against opting for produce which is grown industrially and overseas. “We have weaned ourselves off family farms in favour of industrial farming, and our farmers cannot keep up. We already don’t grow certain crops anymore,” he said, adding that we need to rethink the way we eat and to reconnect to our land. “If we support local and small-scale, it would automatically make our food choices more sustainable.”
Work with the seasons
Jeanette Borg, Founder of the Malta Youth in Agriculture Foundation pointed out that when buying our food, our choices are usually determined by the time we have available, the price of the product and food preferences, but we rarely base our choices on whether the food is locally grown and whether it is in season. “We don’t eat according to the seasons anymore, which is leading to a dwindling farming population,” she said. “Consumer demands are pushing the boundaries of the biodiversity of our islands.”
What is good for us is good for the environment
Elliot M Berry, Former Director of Israel’s Hebrew University Hadassah Medical School, believes that the Mediterranean Diet is the best option all around. “It has a low environmental impact, favours seasonal and local food, and offers major health and nutrition benefits,” he explained. “It also promotes cultural wellbeing when we cook and eat together.” The Mediterranean Diet is heavy on vegetables, fruits, nuts, beans, and whole grains, making it one of the most earth-friendly and healthy options. “What is good for us is good for the environment,” said Berry. “It’s a win-win situation.”
Waste not, want not
Stefania Calleja, founder of Healthylicious and a Home Economics teacher, said that we waste a third of our food. “We need to utilise more of each plant”, she said. “The florets aren’t the only part of broccoli that we can eat. You can use the stalk and leaves in stir-fries. Vegetable skins can be used to make stock, and stale bread can be turned into breadcrumbs or bread pudding.” Calleja also encouraged viewers to grow as much of their own food as possible, even if the only garden they have is some pots on their balcony.
Use less plastic
Darren Borg, co-owner of online shop Rebels With A Cause, listed some worrying statistics. “40 tonnes of plastic cotton buds are used in Malta every year,” he said. That knowledge prompted him and his colleague to start producing bamboo cotton buds and toothbrushes, another product which takes 400 years to biodegrade. They have since added other products to their shop, all made out of natural materials. He explained how plastic is cheap to produce, but the damage done to the environment is irreparable. The only solution is to reuse the plastic we already own and to switch to natural materials whenever possible.
Women need proper support if they are to work
Although there are more female than male graduates every year, few leadership positions are occupied by women. “When they reach their mid-20s, women tend to take on roles that, although important, are unpaid, and which keep them out of positions where they could have a voice,” said Mariella Camilleri, president of the Malta International Federation of Business and Professional Women. She explained that with fewer women in decision-making positions, they cannot have a say in passing legislation that would close the gender gap. “Women need support so they can continue to work, like the ability to work more days from home, and time off work for their partners so they can share childcare,” she said.
We need gender quotas
Lara Dimitrijevic, who is the founder and director of the Women’s Rights Foundation, is in favour of introducing gender quotas, if only temporarily. “There is a societal impression that women are not capable of holding certain positions, so unfortunately it’s a necessary evil to introduce a quota to have equal representation,” she said, adding that this should only be a temporary measure.
We cannot be complacent
In an impassioned keynote speech about women and the gender gap, H.E. Dr Marie-Louise Coleiro Preca, President Emeritus of Malta, noted that although it has been proven that countries led by women coped better during the pandemic, female participation in decision-making roles remains low. She said it will take 107 years for the gender gap to be closed, and that is not taking into consideration crises like the current pandemic, which set us back by a decade. However, Dr Coleiro Preca is hopeful. “We cannot be complacent,” she said. “We need to take action now. Women are the necessary hope for a sustainable future.”
There is hope yet
Jo Caruana, MSF presenter and founder of the Finesse Group, feels that not all is lost. “The content was rich and hard-hitting, but hopeful too,” she says of the Forum. “So many of the speakers across the panels I presented gave me hope. There’s a great energy around everything that was discussed, and I look forward to taking those conversations even further into the future. As the slogan of this year’s Forum made clear: the time is very much now.”
We need to act NOW
Herve Delpech, Chief Strategy Officer at APS Bank, believes that people are more aware of how dire the global situation is. “This year’s Malta Sustainability Forum has brought together 1200+ participants who decided to learn and engage with our 83 speakers across 16 hours of live transmission, a record for Malta: never has an event about Sustainability gained so much momentum and reach,” he said. “The quality of the speakers (55% women and 30% international) and the diversity of the themes addressed to explain the success. People and organisations have realised the future can be changed and that they can be part of it if they ACT NOW. Apart from giving a better understanding of the challenges the world is facing on its journey to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, the FORUM also provided solutions and different perspectives that could be applied to Malta. This, in addition to building awareness, is the contribution the event makes to Malta and its communities towards a more sustainable future.”
For more information on the Malta Sustainability Forum 2021 or to catch up on the modules presented throughout the five-day event, visit maltasustainabilityforum.com and www.facebook.com/maltasustainabilityforum.