Coronavirus Epidemic Hits Italy's Agriculture Sector

The rising number of coronavirus infections across northern Italy has impacted every corner of the country's agriculture sector, from harvesting and production to tourism and exports.

Feb. 27, 2020
By Paolo DeAndreis

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As the num­ber of con­firmed coro­n­avirus cases surges to 400 in Italy, the country’s agri­cul­tural indus­try is already feel­ing the impacts of the epi­demic.

Harvesting, pack­ag­ing and trans­porta­tion have all been deeply affected by strict mea­sures intro­duced by the Italian gov­ern­ment to con­tain the spread of the virus.

We can not accept the fur­ther cer­ti­fi­ca­tions for Italian goods requested by some national author­i­ties, because there is no risk of infec­tion what­so­ever in han­dling food and pack­ages.- Teresa Bellanova, Italian min­is­ter of agri­cul­ture

To make things worse, sev­eral European coun­tries have started ask­ing Italian sup­pli­ers for addi­tional and more com­pre­hen­sive cer­ti­fi­ca­tions on imported Italian goods. Others have enforced reg­u­la­tions that could reduce the avail­abil­ity of for­eign sea­sonal work­ers ahead of the next har­vest.

Restrictive mea­sures have been mostly applied in the north of the coun­try. Just south of Milan, the epi­demic led the gov­ern­ment to define a red zone’ — eleven munic­i­pal­i­ties no one can access or leave.

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Milan itself and sev­eral other munic­i­pal­i­ties in the Lombardia and Emilia-Romagna regions were declared yel­low zones,’ where max­i­mum cau­tion” is urged for all cit­i­zens and work­ers.

That region is one of Italy’s most impor­tant indus­trial and agri­cul­tural dis­tricts, where mea­sures of restricted move­ment are affect­ing the abil­ity to process, pack­age and dis­patch prod­ucts for domes­tic and inter­na­tional mar­kets.


The farm­ers asso­ci­a­tion, Coldiretti, under­lined how hard the agri­cul­ture indus­try could be hit if the sea­sonal for­eign work­ers could not come to Italian fields.

The four­teen-day quar­an­tine enforced by the Romanian Health Ministry con­cerns those who reach Romania from the Veneto or Lombardia regions or those who trav­eled by plane in the last two weeks,” Coldiretti said in a state­ment. A deci­sion that drove many Romanian work­ers to aban­don work plans in Italy just before the spring sea­son, when the agri­cul­tural activ­i­ties in the field begin every­where.”

However, in spite of travel lim­i­ta­tions and the threat of dis­ease, some work­ers plan on com­ing to the region any­way when the work begins.

I was here last spring and I will be here this year as well, and I am quite sure that many of my fel­low coun­try­men will do the same,” Stelian Lungu, a Romanian worker in cen­tral Italy, told Olive Oil Times. It does not depend on the virus, it depends on the chance to find a job. Of course, things can always change but, as long as there are jobs avail­able, they will come no mat­ter what.”

The sce­nario could change, depend­ing on how effec­tive the adopted mea­sures will prove at stop­ping the epi­demic.

Also at stake are Italy’s agri­cul­tural exports, which in 2019 accounted for one-quar­ter of all agribusi­ness rev­enue, accord­ing to Coldiretti.

We can not accept the fur­ther cer­ti­fi­ca­tions for Italian goods requested by some national author­i­ties, because there is no risk of infec­tion what­so­ever in han­dling food and pack­ages,” Teresa Bellanova, the Italian min­is­ter of agri­cul­ture, said.

She argued that the addi­tional require­ments being made by some European coun­tries are ille­gal.

We are com­mit­ted at every level to avert any block­ade against Italian exports,” she said. It rep­re­sents unfair com­pe­ti­tion, it must be denounced and imme­di­ately halted.”

Action has been deemed urgent by the Italian author­i­ties. Several com­mer­cial ports have already encoun­tered prob­lems in unload­ing Italian freighters in part due to the ports’ own per­son­nel not will­ing to meet with their Italian coun­ter­parts and the lack of med­ical sup­port in these types of import and export oper­a­tions.

What hap­pens next is unpre­dictable, but the pro­duc­tion chain — the back­bone of the Italian agribusi­ness sec­tor — is already try­ing to assess the dam­ages.

Every farm is affected by the epi­demic. Even the iconic farm­houses in Tuscany, land of olive oil and wine, are now fac­ing a mass-can­cel­la­tion of reser­va­tions by inter­na­tional guests.

Nobody knows when the emer­gency will be over and those uncer­tain­ties do not help. Many across the sec­tor believe some form of sup­port from the gov­ern­ment will be needed by farm­ers and added-value com­pa­nies.

All stake­hold­ers mean­while are look­ing to the European Union to find a com­mon strat­egy in deal­ing with the virus and its con­se­quences.


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