Thursday, 29 September 2011

The real Malta

Traditional Biscuits - Photo by Jeanette Borg

Punic Tombs - Photo by Chrisitan Borg

Honey Buzzard - Photo by Chris Cachia Zammit

Barracudas - Photo by Sonia Silvio

Hello Malta lovers!

We can now say goodbye to "September" and welcome to "October". Autumn look busy at tours and local products are keeping us on the go. We're very excited working on the new Eco-Hampers catalogue which will introduce a new range of delicacies and eco gifts that are strictly local and fair-trade :) 

At the moment eco tours featuring the culinary aspects of Malta are going strong. Appreciation of the local landscape goes part and parcel with this gourmet niche. In the meantime we pray for some rain to irrigate the fields and replenish the aquifers after a long dry summer. 

I added some interesting photos to this blog article showing a range of eco items in Malta. The traditional biscuits, known as "Biskuttini tar-Rahal" are still baked in traditional bakeries where the ovens are managed by hardworking bakers who keep recipes alive. Following that is the photo of the rock-cut tombs. These are very particular as their architectural arrangement resemble a set of pigeon holes. 

Autumn is a great time for bird watching. This is why I've uploaded a photo of a lovely honey buzzard in flight. Photo is kindly shared by one of our expert birders. Today I was at the Lippija area with some foreigners and  came across two hunters. We kept our distances from them and went on. We always adopt this approach during our tours and never encountered any problems so far. When necessary we do change our itineraries to avoid conflicts. 

In principle we are against hunting and very much pro bird watching. However we strongly believe that it is only through mutual respect that we can achieve harmony between eco tourists and hunters during the hunting season.  It is of no use pointing out a hundred and one negative aspects of hunting without promoting the fun and excitement one can experience while bird watching in Malta. 

Enforcement officers are all over Malta, keeping poachers at bay. Enough damage has been done to Malta's reputation because of poaching. Very few, if any, give credit to hunters when it comes to environmental stewardship. How many out there would spend money and time to irrigate trees and keep rubble walls in good shape? In my humble opinion there are only two active categories of stewards in Malta, whether people admit it or not: farmers and to a lesser extent hunters! All those that are not into agreement with this must bear in mind that tourism, especially ecotourism,  goes hand in hand with all stakeholders in rural areas. 

Last but not least, I added a stunning photo taken by our expert diver and underwater photographer, Sonia. This amazing shoal of Barracudas seems to be coming from a different world. Diving is such an eco-friendly activity for all nature lovers and photographers. 

Stay in touch for more news about eco stuff: follow us on Twitter (@merillecotours) and visit our website to keep updated.

Sunday, 18 September 2011

A Happy Weekend for Birdwatchers

Bee Eater in Flight - Photo by Chris Cachia Zammit

Honey buzzard - Photo by Chris Cachia Zammit

Honey Buzzard - Photo by Chris Cachia Zammit

Friday, 16 September 2011

Our Daily Bread at Casal Fornaro

The old streets of the bread making village, Qormi, have been once again turned into one big feast to celebrate traditional bread. Qormi is also known as Citta Pinto, named after Grandmaster Emanuel Pinto de Fonseca who granted this village the level of a "city" in 1743. The roots of the old city are still well ingrained in traditions, architecture and local dialect. In order to promote the traditional bread of Malta, two whole evenings of activities are underway.

Today has been fantastic. The streets were well lit and full of aromas coming from stalls of bread, biscuits and traditional nougat. A 230-foot-long baguette was prepared and sold in aid of Puttinu cares, a charity organisation. 

Tomorrow will be the second and last evening of Casal Fornaro. Live bands and traditional music will fill the streets with pleasant sounds. More delicious foods and sweets will be freshly prepared for the large crowds expected to visit this amazing village. 

Photos by Christian Borg

Saturday, 10 September 2011

The Maltese Goat Breed

This breed is known throughout the Mediterranean and it was common for farmers from other countries such as Sardegna, to come and buy goats from Maltese farmers. The Maltese goat is typically black and is renowned for its high yield of milk. Unfortunately, at the moment, there are no 100% pure-bred goats in Malta. However one can still find them in Sardegna in Italy. The drastic decline of this breed from the Maltese Islands was the discovery of Brucellosis (Brucella melitensis) in the goat’s milk by Sir Temi Zammit. A misconception was initiated in that only goats’ milk contained the disease this urging Maltese farmers to look for other milk producing farm animals.  Infact the government of that time supported this idea by having a programme against goat rearing and proposed a scheme that gave a cow (Holstein Friesian) in exchange for five goats (1).

Maltese Goats - Photo by Salvatore Pipia
The Maltese goat has a white body with long hair, black head and large dropping ears and originated from the Middle East. This breed does not have horns. It is usually raised in small flocks of about 40 - 60 heads. Kidding occurs during the whole year, with a concentration during the months of November and February. Milk production is about 350L with a high fat and protein content, 3.8% and 3.3% respectively. Prolificity is of 180% as is considered as high. (Rubino, R.; 1993) (2).

Due to the lack of pasture land, an open yard system is commonly used for housing goats in Malta (2). Shelter needs to be provided in case of bad weather. However in countries having a higher availability of pastureland, the extensive production of goats is possible. Housing goats in the dark for several hours each day in the spring and summer months will result in an earlier estrus. Conversely, artificial lighting in the goat barn may delay estrus in autumn (6).

In Malta up to the late forties, the herdsman would take his flock round the village streets where he would milk the goat at one’s doorstep. (3) Nowadays the small portable milking machines are preferred. Milking parlors are not commonly used as the number of goats in a flock is usually small (2).

Goat milk has played an important role in human nutrition for a long time because of its nutritional and dietetic characteristics (Morand-Fehr et al., 2000). The Maltese goat as an indigenous breed, supplied households with milk and before the introduction of the Holstein Fresians, goat milk was the only source of milk. 

The importance of goat milk in infant diets is growing probably because goat milk in some cases is less allergenic than cow milk. Maltese Goat milk has often been processed into cheese. Goat cheese is of a hard-texture, made with full-cream raw milk. Curdling is carried out in woody tubs at 35 °C for 45 min by adding lamb’s rennet. The ripening ranges from a few days to some months (Rubino, 1996). Its sensorial profile is particularly appreciated among cheese tasters. An interesting study elaborated the effect of lactation on the flavour of cheese made with raw milk of Maltese goats bred in Sicily (Italy). The goat cheese flavour was analyzed for the first time by Solid Phase Microextraction (SPME) coupled with Gas chromatography/Mass Spectrometry (GC/MS) (5).

In my opinion several actions can be taken towards the improvement of the situation of this breed. The loss of such a valuable breed can mean loss of agricultural biodiversity in the island of origin, that is Malta, but also in the Mediterranean context.

Reintroduction of the breed into Malta

The modern goats breeds are said to be reproducing nicely. Although goats have done considerable damage to the local flora in the past, they are more suitable for Malta then cows which are adapted to graze on pastures, rather than the rocky hills that are more typical of the Maltese islands (1)

So far there are no plants to reintroduce the Maltese goats back to Malta. The use of goats has decreased in these years and the only goat breed one can find in Malts is mainly the Syrian, which are mainly red in colour and which used to be imported from Syria and then exported to North Africa. Although no pure-breed Maltese goats remain in Malta, one cannot exclude that some of the local goats may be closely related to the pure Maltese breed. It is a pity that having a breed with strong cultural roots is totally absent from its place of origin. The Maltese male goat is depicted on stones from the Tarxien prehistoric temple (3).

There are various initiatives which the local government can take so as to reintroduce this breed. Being a member of the European Union, we can benefit from the various funds to achieve this aim. LEADER projects and LIFE projects have aided such purposes in several countries in the past. Nonetheless such initiatives can be taken to Malta’s advantage and conserve local biodiversity (8).

Kindly acknowledge Jeanette Borg when using any part of the text in this article.
(Reference: Borg J. 2008, The Maltese goat breed)


  1. Galea De Giovanni Martin; Agro-Biodiversity Campaign; Paper on Maltese Agro-Biodiversity; Friends of the Earth

  1. Blundel R.; 1994; Reintroduction of the local breeds of sheep and goats in Malta; CIHEAM; Options Mediterraneennes; Department of Agriculture, Government Farm for Research and Development; Ghammieri; Malta
  2. Busuttil Salvino; Agriculture in Malta: A Historical Note; Options Mediterraneennes; United Nations Environment Programme, Co-ordinating Unit for the Mediterranean Action Plan, Athens, Greece

  1. Gigli Isalbel, Sardina Maria T, Budelli Elena, Finocchiao Raffaella; Genetic and Protein Polymorphism at CSN1S1 Locus in Two Goat Breeds; Universita degli Studi di Palermo, Dipartimento S.En.Fi.Mi.Zo., Palermo, Italia.

  1. B. Chiofalo, A. Zumbo, R. Costa, L. Liotta, L. Mondello, P. Dugo and V. Chiofalo; Characterization of Maltese goat milk cheese flavour using SPME-GC/MS; South African Journal of Animal Science 2004, 34 (Supplement 1); South African Society for Animal Science Peer-reviewed paper: 8th International Conference on Goats

  1. Camilleri K; 2001; The economic aspects of breeding sheep and goats in Malta; Dissertation Diploma in Agricultural Sciences; University of Malta

  1. Uysal-Pala C., Y Karagul-Yuceer, Pala A. Savas T.; Sensory Properties of Drinkable yogurt made from milk of different goat breeds; Journal of sensory studies. Malden, USA: Blackwell   Publishing Inc 2006 Oct., v. 21, no. 5, p. 520-533

  1. Horst Korn, Rainer Schliep, Cordula Epple; 2005; Opportunities of EU Agricultural Policy Instruments for Biodiversity Conservation and Integrated Rural Development in Protected Areas of the New Member States; Report of the workshop convened by the German Federal Agency for Nature Conservation at the International Academy for Nature Conservation;

  1. G.M. Vacca, L. Chianese, A. Ghibellini, V. Carcangiu, R. Mauriello, P.P. Bini; αS1-casein genetic variants in Sarda goat breed; Dipartimento di Biologia Animale; Università di Sassari

  1. Gabina D.; Management of European Sheep and Goat Genetic Resources; Options Mediterraneennes; Mediterranean Agronomic Institute of Zaragoza; CIHEAM; Spain

Other useful links;

Heritability Estimates of Lactation Traits in Maltese Goats

Reintroduction of Maltese Sheep and Goats

Brucellosis and Maltese Goats in the Mediterranean

Characterisation of Maltese Goat milk cheese flavour

The Black Maltese Poultry Breed

Photo by Jeanette Borg

In-Situ conservation of the Black Maltese and performance evaluation under a small-scale intensive system - J.G Mallia

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Agriculture - The Industry that shaped Malta's Landscape

Photo by Christian Borg
The Maltese archipelago consists of three inhabited islands (Malta, Gozo and Comino) and a number of small islets. The total land area covers a surface of 316 km2. In 2007, 404,000 inhabited the Maltese archipelago, with an average population density of 1,282 inhabitants/Km²; it remains by far the most densely populated Member State of the European Union. Approximately 64% of the total population lives in rural localities. Agriculture is the largest land user accounting for 47.8% of the total area of the islands. Only 2% of the holdings have more than 5 ha. (Ref 1)

Photo by Jeanette Borg
The origins of agriculture in Malta are as old as man’s presence on the archipelago. Judging by the quality, size and numbers of the megalithic temples on the islands, those origins are indeed remote. Tools and agricultural equipment discovered in Malta express neolithic man’s vocation to husbandry and his dedication to agricultural life (Ref. 2).

That the Maltese were advanced in their knowledge of agricultural science and of related pursuits has been well documented. Roman historians refer to the islanders’ prowess in producing cotton and honey. Sails manufactured in Malta were a prized possession in the ancient wor ld. Honey is, of course, associated intimately with Malta’s own name (Ref. 3).

Photo by Christian Borg
Nowadays farming is a less popular industry among locals. Nonetheless, agriculture still has a very important role in providing fresh fruit and vegetables to locals as well maintaining the landscape. Some villages have quite a pronounced agricultural community while others have unfortunately lost their character because of urbanisation. Most of the crops and foodstuffs produced are consumed domestically. The main crops are potatoes, cauliflower, grapes, wheat, barley, tomatoes, citrus, and green peppers. Livestock production includes dairy cattle, chicken, sheep and goats, pork, rabbit, and turkey. The main livestock exports are prepared meat products and fish (Ref 4).

Photo by Jeanette Borg
At Merill Eco Tours we specialise in eco and agricultural tours. We are MTA licensed excursion organisers and are supported by fully trained staff and guides. We enjoy an exclusive extensive contact base of the best farmers and craftspersons to provide you and your guests with a professional and unique experience. For more information visit our website (, follow us on Twitter or "like" our Facebook Fan Page. Should you need to contact us...send us an email on

Ref 1 - Malta Country Profile -

Ref 2 & 3 - Agriculture in Malta; A historical note - 1993 - Salvino Busuttil - CIHEAM

Ref 4 - Encyclopedia of Nations - Malta; agriculture

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Bird sightings close to the sea

Yellow legged gull

Photos by Chris Cachia Zammit

Cory Shearwater

Fresh ideas for social events within your company

We spend a lot of time where we work, and our workplaces all have an ecological footprint. Moreover, some of our 'social' activities still revolve around the workplace when we organise incentives for the employees, get-togethers and other events. 
At Merill Eco Tours we are continuously developing fresh ideas which offer CSR Committees and Organisers a balanced solution for 'fun' yet 'responsible' events. Most of our team-building experiences and excursions can be customised and adapted according to the needs of the organisation, including its aims & objectives and group size. 
The Maltese Islands have a lot to offer even for the locals, and by taking into consideration the Ecotourism Principles, our firm strives to make the best out of each experience - for everyone involved.  

Tours for CSR Committees

For more information email us on or visit our website

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