` Lack of Farm Workers in Argentina Weakens Vulnerable Olive Oil Industry


Lack of Farm Workers in Argentina Weakens Vulnerable Olive Oil Industry

Apr. 17, 2011
By Charlie Higgins

Recent News

The Argen­tine region of Cuyo, which com­prises the provinces of Men­doza, San Luis, La Rioja and San Juan, is char­ac­ter­ized by warm, dry sum­mers and mild win­ters; ideal grow­ing con­di­tions for olive trees. Cuyo could be pro­duc­ing olives on par with some of Europe’s most pro­lific agri­cul­tural regions, but cer­tain orga­ni­za­tional prob­lems, among them a recent absence of able work­ers, are hin­der­ing the region’s poten­tial.

In 2011 olive cul­ti­va­tion in Cuyo is expected to grow an aston­ish­ing 40 per­cent, but nearly half of this green gold will never make it to store shelves. There are sim­ply not enough work­ers to har­vest the olives, which must be indi­vid­u­ally hand­picked and har­vested. This scarcity of work­ers, com­pounded with the low inter­na­tional price of olive oil, is mak­ing it impos­si­ble for Argentina to com­pete with top pro­duc­ers in coun­tries like Spain and Italy, who also receive hefty gov­ern­ment sub­si­dies.

The vast major­ity of migrant farm labor­ers in the region are Boli­vians, whose long days are spent har­vest­ing grapes, tobacco, sugar, toma­toes, olives and other crops on dif­fer­ent plan­ta­tions through­out Argentina. Men­doza is home to Argentina’s sec­ond largest pop­u­la­tion of Boli­vians, most of which work in the olive and grape farms in nearby Maipu.

Indus­try lead­ers say they have never seen such a scarcity of labor in both the olive and grape sec­tors, despite a 2010 pres­i­den­tial decree pro­vid­ing migrant work­ers with uni­ver­sal child allowance and other ben­e­fits. In gen­eral Boli­vian work­ers, not native Argen­tines, are the ones who rely on these ser­vices, but rarely access them due to the enor­mous time and effort it takes to get on the social assis­tance pay­roll.


Still many work­ers receive the gov­ern­ment hand­outs yet don’t report to work. Rodolfo Var­gas Arizu, Pres­i­dent of Mendoza’s Olive Com­mit­tee, sees this is as one of the main causes of the prob­lem. We should work together to find a cre­ative solu­tion to the prob­lem of how to reward hard work instead of sub­si­diz­ing leisure,” Arizu told Clarin news­pa­per.

Boli­vians are supe­rior work­ers, accord­ing to Arizu, who says that a typ­i­cal Boli­vian can pro­duce 14 bags of olives a day whereas the aver­age Argen­tine laborer brings in just eight. The few Argen­tine olive pick­ers in Cuyo tend to be older peo­ple who har­vest olives each year to stay active but not because they need the money. Boli­vian labor­ers, on the other hand, travel through­out the coun­try in search of work as they eek out a liv­ing on low wages. For each 44-pound bag they fill with olives they receive between $2.46 and $3.45.

Cuyo’s olive oil indus­try will con­tinue to face the worst cri­sis it has seen in thirty years, accord­ing to Arizu, until it finds a way to com­bat the labor prob­lem and turn olives into a viable export indus­try like wine.

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