There are growing concerns across Europe that this unprecedented health crisis can potentially create pressures on food producers and cause a devastating impact on the agricultural sector. Countries are making their utmost to ensure that their local supply of fruit and vegetables does not fall short, especially when considering that food imports from foreign sources have slowed down.
Farmers throughout Europe, including Italy, Germany, UK and France, are facing a shortage of workers because they depend on seasonal migrants to work the fields during harvest time. The travel restrictions imposed due to the pandemic have cut this seasonal migration, with potential damaging result of lost crops and hence a shortage in supplies. In Germany, an attempt to provide for a domestic food supply resulted in the lifting of a ban on seasonal Eastern European farm workers to allow over 80,000 workers to work the fields during April and May. France is leading the way into putting French farming interests first. An estimated 200,000 people will be needed to mitigate the absence of foreign workers, giving rise to measures that encourage the French unemployed to earn extra income from farming whilst still receiving unemployment benefits.
In Italy, more than 25% of food production relies on over 370,000 foreign seasonal workers. Strawberries, asparagus, cauliflowers and zucchini will be reaching harvest time soon. There is a major threat that the entire food supply may come at a standstill with not enough workers.
The Maltese Islands are dependent on Italy for about a fifth of the general food imports. Italy is a major producer of vegetables, fruits, wine and permanent crops, and the usual share of non-regular employed farm labour in Italy averages 18%. A shortage of labour in Italy could have resultant negative effects all over Europe.
The coronavirus epidemic is now more than even highlighting the importance of having short production chains, being self-sufficient, enhancing food security and protecting our agricultural sector. Supporting local Maltese farmers will sure help the local farming community, and we need to ensure our best to buy local where possible. Whilst notifying the fact that Malta is not self-sufficient when comparing the agriculture produce to the number of residents, a boost in the local farming industry will help.