Gozo is a very small island with a high population density. The island faces the problem of having to support an adequate economic development to support its population and at the same time safeguarding its nature, culture and identity of a rural area. Agriculture is essential for the preservation of Gozo’s high-quality rural landscape and the safeguarding of traditions and knowledge associated with the island's rural culture. The agricultural industry provides genuine agricultural products to the local market for fresh consumption. Agriculture is also an important economic activity, not only for its GDP contribution, but also for the employment opportunities it generates.
After a period of decline in recent years, agriculture is now showing signs of rejuvenation. With the appropriate support, innovation and openness to change, agriculture can once again become a major economic player on the island together with other economic sectors such as tourism and the food processing industry.
In 2008 the Maltese Government presented a new concept for the island called Eco-Gozo, a vision which aims to transform Gozo and Gozitan society into a sustainable reality, not only environmentally, but also socially and economically. Clearly the agricultural sector will play a significant role in bringing about this transformation.
The Ministry for Gozo recognised that the scarcity of available background data and the general lack of research facilities required to fulfill the quest for all-round sustainability needed to be remedied. As a result of the most important proposals of the Eco-Gozo programme is the establishment of a state-of the art centre for research, development and innovation in ecology and agriculture.
The Government Experimental Farm (GEF) at Xewkija was chosen as the base for the development of this centre. This farm, which was set up in 1958, intended to improve agricultural productivity of the island both qualitatively and quantitatively. The farm has a total area of about 9 hectares, of which 7.2 hectares is arable land. Activities over the years included trials concerning new growing and rearing techniques, demonstration of new technologies, educational courses for farmers, trials of new seed varieties, trials of local vegetables among other things.
Currently works are underway to transform the Government Experimental Farm in a Centre for Innovation, Rural Sciences and Environmental Management (CIRSEM). The main mission of the centre will be research, education and dissemination of knowledge and technological advancement in Mediterranean agriculture, food production and environmental management. Proposed sectors of activity include Mediterranean agricultural sciences, agri-ecosystem management, agri-tourism, food processing and specifications, water management, rural development, agricultural engineering and ecological restoration. The centre will be outward-looking and will seek to develop and enhance relations with stakeholders, including farmers and food processors. It will provide space and support for undergraduate and postgradute research projects on agricultural and ecological themes as well as providing the opportunity for Gozitan, Maltese and foreign research workers to utilise the Island of Gozo as a “field laboratory”. This centre is one of the promising developments in the island’s efforts to close the gap between agricultural producers and the commercial and touristic sectors. Once the centre is fully functional the results obtained will make a strong contribution to the island’s agri-tourism sectors.