Feeding Corona-Hit Nation: Moroccan, Romanian Workers Needed Amid Harvest Crisis

Written by | Saturday, April 18th, 2020

The restrictions around the coronavirus outbreak have made it impossible for thousands of migrant workers to come and harvest crops in the fields in Spain and the UK. But that’s just one of the many problems local farmers face. “It’s a dramatic situation,” says a farmer from Huelva, 100 kilometers west of Sevilla. Earlier, farmers across Spain protested against high production costs and low prices for their produce and then came the coronavirus and the whole country was put under a strict lockdown as the nation was hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic. A few days before Spanish government declared a state of emergency, the neighboring Morocco had also shuttered its borders, thus effectively preventing Moroccan workers from reaching the Spanish farms where they work each year. Also fruit and vegetable pickers en route from Eastern European countries had to return home as governments all over the EU also made the unprecedented move of closing their borders.
Meanwhile in the UK, a food producer has chartered a flight to a plane-load of Romanians into the country on Thursday (16 April) to help pick fruits and vegetables. In Spain, the UK, France and elsewhere across Europe, farmers have complained of having to either throw away their harvests or leave it to rot in the field because of the coronavirus lockdowns. Confinement has meant farmers have lost their normal clients, like restaurants who have closed down, or they were lack of seasonal workers to harvest their crops. In effort to alleviate this problem, Air Charter Services has reportedly flown 2,000 fruit and vegetable pickers from eastern European countries across Europe since the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak. UK authorities say they have ensured the compulsory form of social distancing, which includes health checks at both ends of the journey and also the middle seat of the middle row being kept empty.
As the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) have warned about the impact COVID-19 could have on global food security, the French and British ministries of agriculture have both called on furloughed people to work the fields. Back in Huelva, a region with high unemployment and poverty levels, local strawberry farms still – perhaps somewhat paradoxically – depend on foreign workers. Up to 97% of Spanish strawberries come from this region that in turn supplies most strawberries sold in European supermarkets. Every year, thousands of people from countries like Romania, Bulgaria, Poland or Morocco come to work in the fields, which has now become a major obstacle to the business due to the lockdown measures. Still, not many local Spaniards dare to say that these foreigners come here to steal their jobs, since most of them are not willing to work as fruit and vegetable pickers.

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