Second Wave of Covid Hampers Harvest in Greece

A newly-imposed lockdown has brought Greece to a standstill and created a logistical nightmare for olive growers. Some health experts believe the start of the harvest is partly responsible for the spread of the virus.
Nov 18, 2020 7:52 AM EST
Costas Vasilopoulos

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The Covid-19 pan­demic con­tin­ues to cause headaches across the Greek olive oil sec­tor, with the most recent out­break poten­tially lead­ing to labor short­ages and decreas­ing the pro­duc­tion of the cur­rent sea­son.

Some health experts have even iden­ti­fied the start of early har­vest­ing in Greece as a poten­tial cause for the spread of the novel coro­n­avirus in some regions of the coun­try.

The olive har­vest hangs on a knife-edge here.- Yiannis Ravvas, olive grower and mill owner in Fthiotida

There is an increase of the coro­n­avirus cases in areas that were off the map of the highly-affected ter­ri­to­ries until recently, includ­ing Fokida, Messinia, Lesvos and Crete,” Vana Papaevagelou, assis­tant pro­fes­sor of pedi­atric infec­tious dis­eases of Athens University, said dur­ing a press con­fer­ence of the Ministry of Health.

The out­break of the virus in these areas may be related to the olive har­vest,” she added.

See Also: 2020 Harvest Updates

Due to the fear of con­tract­ing Covid-19 and the short­age of work­ers, the olives in many areas are likely to be left unpicked, ulti­mately lead­ing to a reduced olive oil yield.

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The uncer­tainty caused by the pan­demic made many pro­duc­ers start har­vest­ing in October, which is too early in the sea­son,” mill owner Voula Kaplanis, from the vil­lage of Solomos on the Peloponnese, told Olive Oil Times.

Even so, we get olive oil of high qual­ity since there are no signs of the fruit fly,” she added. But other pro­duc­ers are afraid of becom­ing infected with the coro­n­avirus and have left their olives unhar­vested, so many of our clients have not yet shown up to process their crop. No one can tell how things will evolve through January when we wrap our oper­a­tions up.”

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Further com­pli­cat­ing the mat­ter, a new nation­wide lock­down imposed in early November intro­duced more strict inter­na­tional travel restric­tions and a pro­hi­bi­tion on travel within the coun­try, ham­per­ing the daily com­mute of grow­ers and the avail­able land work­ers to the olive groves.

During the lock­down period, grow­ers and pro­duc­ers must be able to prove own­er­ship of the groves, whereas proof of employ­ment is required for work­ers when trav­el­ing to the groves for the har­vest.

Furthermore, the slug­gish pro­ce­dures in place for hir­ing for­eign work­ers were pin­pointed by some pro­duc­ers as a cause for the lack of work­force in the coun­try.

There is a great delay in call­ing in work­ers [from abroad],” Kostas Apostolopoulos, the head of the Handrinos agri­cul­tural asso­ci­a­tion in Messinia, said. The per­ti­nent regional offices are being choked by bureau­cracy.”

The main part of the har­vest is expected to begin in 10 days, and we do not know how the quar­an­tine will impact the travel of land work­ers and the trans­porta­tion of the olives from the field to the mill,” he added.

See Also: Greece Pledges €126M Aid to Producers for Pandemic-Related Losses

Yiannis Ravvas, an olive grower and mill owner based in Fthiotida, in cen­tral Greece, was quick to describe a grim har­vest­ing sea­son in the region.

The olive har­vest hangs on a knife-edge here,” Ravvas said. Foreign labor­ers left when the first Covid-related travel mea­sures were announced, and Greek work­ers are almost impos­si­ble to come by.”

We will get on with the har­vest with every­thing we have. Despite the olive trees being in their nat­ural cycle of a low yield this year, we were expect­ing a sub­stan­tial pro­duc­tion,” he added. But the ugly truth is that the olive fruits have been heav­ily affected by the fruit fly, which has spread almost every­where affect­ing the quan­tity and most impor­tantly the qual­ity of our olive oil.”

Another sig­nif­i­cant con­cern for Ravvas is the price of extra vir­gin olive oil, which is cur­rently lower than the estab­lished prices in other olive oil pro­duc­ing ter­ri­to­ries of the coun­try.

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Producers’ prices here are noth­ing to write home about, rang­ing between €2.50 ($2.96) and €2.80 ($3.31) per kilo­gram and ren­der­ing all our hard work and efforts point­less,” he said.

The weird thing is that a cou­ple of nearby big bot­tling facil­i­ties oper­ate 24/7 to ful­fill orders from abroad in times of strict mea­sures and clo­sures of many eater­ies almost every­where, and I do not really under­stand how prices at ori­gin are so low given the exist­ing mar­ket demand,” he added.

However, things look bet­ter in some areas of Crete in terms of both the avail­abil­ity of work­ers and olive oil qual­ity, as the own­ers of the Despina Blavakis olive oil mill near Heraklion told Olive Oil Times.

Harvest started in October here and we expect to get olive oil of top qual­ity,” the own­ers said. There are some work­ers from Albania avail­able, so the pan­demic has not cre­ated sig­nif­i­cant obsta­cles in get­ting land labor­ers so far. And thank­fully, the olive fruits are unharmed by the fruit fly, but we have to delay the har­vest for some days since it has started to rain heav­ily in our area.”

One kilo­gram of extra vir­gin olive oil cur­rently sells for €2.50 ($2.96), which is really low,” they added. We have already sold some quan­ti­ties in bulk, but the rid­dle of low prices and the impact of the Covid-19 pan­demic is dif­fi­cult to solve and we are uncer­tain about the future.”





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