“We’re facing several problems at once: workers who can’t find work, farmers who can’t pick or sell their products, and a risk of food shortages in the cities,” says Romano Magrini, head of the labor policies division for Coldiretti, the main agricultrual union in Italy.
(Xinhua) — As Italy‘s national coronavirus lockdown stretches through the prime growing months of the spring, the country’s farmers are facing rising uncertainty, said the main agricultural union Coldiretti.
In a series of reports released this week, Coldiretti said that a set of factors are weighing on the sector, ranging from a dramatic slowdown in international trade, the closure of all of the country’s restaurants, transport issues, and a lack of labor where it is most needed.
Coldiretti added that prices for many domestically grown fruits and vegetables are now rising much faster than inflation.
Only some of those problems can be addressed under the rules of the national lockdown, but Coldiretti is looking to fix at least one of them.
The organization launched a “Jobs In Country” database that helps agricultural workers looking for jobs to be matched with farms and orchards in need of help.
After a pilot project in the northern region of Veneto showed positive results, the initiative has been extended nationally, with approval from Italy’s Ministry of Labor.
Coldiretti said the plan is based on the use of a kind of “agricultural voucher” that allows unemployed urban workers, as well as experienced agricultural hands, to seek work in the countryside.
A worker herds the sheep in the Caffarella Park in Rome, Italy, April 16, 2020.
(Photo by Alberto Lingria/Xinhua)
So far, it has been successful — the Veneto pilot project alone matched more than 1,500 workers with jobs.
But Romano Magrini, head of the labor policies division for Coldiretti, said the labor portal is only part of what should be a wider effort to save Italy’s agricultural sector.
“Italy is running the risk of having much of its agricultural sector close down,” Magrini told Xinhua. “We’re facing several problems at once: workers who can’t find work, farmers who can’t pick or sell their products, and a risk of food shortages in the cities.”
Magrini said the uncertainty combined with dropping supply for many products is pushing prices of fruits and vegetables so much higher compared to other products.
Ersilia Di Tullio, a senior agriculture and food analyst with Nomisma, an economic studies firm, said the agricultural sector had certain limitations other economic sectors do not have.
“If a crop is ready for picking, you cannot say ‘oh, I’ll wait a week or two days and take care of it then,'” Di Tullio said in an interview. “You have to do it at the right time, or that crop is lost.”
Workers work in a farm in the Caffarella Park in Rome, Italy, April 16, 2020.(Photo by Alberto Lingria/Xinhua)
She also said the sector is unusually dependent on seasonal workers, noting that 9 out of 10 of the workers in the agricultural sector are seasonal.
“Without access to seasonal labor, a third of which comes from outside Italy, the operators in the sector are going to suffer,” Di Tullio said.
In one of its reports, Coldiretti said that nearly two out of five Italian farmers are facing economic difficulties due to the national lockdown.
The report said production costs are an estimated 14 percent higher for fruit and 24 percent higher for vegetables, while increased demand from supermarkets is unable to keep up with the loss of revenue from restaurants and exports.
Coldiretti President Ettore Prandini said it was too early to have specific models for the economic impacts of the crisis on the agriculture sector. But he estimated that it could diminish revenue for the 523-billion-euro (575-billion-U.S. dollar) agricultural sector by as much as 60 percent this year.