Europe

Drought, Worker Shortages and Roaming Boars: Challenges Mount for Italy's Farmers

Thousands of small farmers are having to contend with seasonal labor shortages, a lack of spare parts for their machines, severe drought and wild boars roaming through unworked fields. Italian agriculture is facing challenges from all directions in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Apr. 21, 2020
By Paolo DeAndreis

A severe drought plagues the coun­try from north to south, the national lock­down causes short­ages in work­ers and sup­plies, and deserted groves are now home for thou­sands of roam­ing wild boars. In the midst of the COVID-19 emer­gency and the worst eco­nomic tur­moil since World War II, the Ital­ian agri­cul­ture indus­try finds itself fac­ing an unprece­dented stress test.

If con­di­tions do not change, and ade­quate rain­fall sets in, many farm­ers will not have enough water for their crops.- Coldiretti.

Cli­ma­tol­o­gists believe the cur­rent drought in Italy to be the worst such event in the last 60 years. In the north­ern regions, rain­fall has dropped 61 per­cent since Feb­ru­ary. The lat­est data from the National Research Coun­cil shows a sub­stan­tial reduc­tion of water lev­els in rivers and lakes across the coun­try, this is the warmest sea­son on record since 1800, with tem­per­a­tures 2.7 degrees (1.52 degrees Cel­sius) warmer than aver­age.

While excep­tion­ally severe, the drought is noth­ing new. Farm­ers asso­ci­a­tion Coldiretti cal­cu­lates that in the last 10 years, cli­mate extremes have caused losses of more than $15 bil­lion. Drought is the sin­gle most costly con­di­tion for the sec­tor.

See more: Pro­duc­ers in Spain Pre­pare for New Real­ity as Cri­sis Grinds On

To save crops, farm­ers are forced to inter­vene with emer­gency irri­ga­tion for corn and meet, while wheat, toma­toes, veg­eta­bles and alfalfa are under water stress,” Coldiretti stated in a press release. If con­di­tions do not change, and ade­quate rain­fall sets in, many farm­ers will not have enough water for their crops, with a true risk of a strong reduc­tion in yields at the worst pos­si­ble time, when the coro­n­avirus emer­gency has already slowed trade.”

But rain­fall alone will not revi­tal­ize the indus­try. The COVID-19-fueled labor short­age pre­dicted by indus­try watch­ers is tak­ing its toll on thou­sands of small farm­ers. Accord­ing to the Ital­ian Min­istry of Agri­cul­ture, sea­sonal agri­cul­tural work­ers com­ing from abroad usu­ally account for 26 per­cent of the needed labor dur­ing the busy sea­son. Farm­ers fed­er­a­tion Con­fra­gri­coltura esti­mated a labor short­age of at least 250 thou­sand work­ers while the work­ers union CGIL has openly dis­cussed a real risk of col­lapse of the sec­tor.” Both Con­fra­gri­coltura and Coldiretti have just launched their own web ini­tia­tives to find recruits for agri­cul­ture.

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The Min­istry called for quick action.

Many invis­i­ble migrants work in our fields, live in infor­mal set­tle­ments, are under­paid and exploited,” Min­is­ter Teresa Bel­lanova told Par­lia­ment. She esti­mated that at least 600,000 peo­ple already work in our ter­ri­to­ries with­out paper­work” and asked for their reg­u­lar­iza­tion, a strat­egy that could address the labor short­age ques­tion and accom­pa­ny­ing com­plex san­i­tary and social risks, but that has been met with skep­ti­cism by the par­lia­men­tary oppo­si­tion.

Bel­lanova also noted the poten­tial oppor­tu­ni­ties for sea­sonal work­ers whose con­tracts in tourism, restau­rants and other sec­tors have been ter­mi­nated because of the COVID-19 pan­demic.

The Bel­lanova strat­egy has been met with inter­est by the work­ers’ unions.

These work­ers must also be pro­vided with suit­able tem­po­rary hous­ing. The COVID-19 emer­gency should not turn into a cat­a­stro­phe for agri­cul­ture or a huge oppor­tu­nity for orga­nized crime; exploita­tion and under­ground work not sub­ject to any sort of health and hygiene mon­i­tor­ing,” CGIL wrote in a note.

Busi­ness con­sul­tant Enzo Pal­a­dio told Olive Oil Times that bureau­cracy is the biggest obsta­cle for agribusi­ness at the moment.

We could have already found new sea­sonal work­ers among the many unem­ployed who have some form of pub­lic eco­nomic sup­port, but actual rules do not allow them to receive that sup­port if they are work­ing on the fields,” Pal­a­dio said.

The work­ers’ union and farm­ers are ask­ing the gov­ern­ment to pro­vide vouch­ers that could allow the unem­ployed to enroll as agri­cul­tural work­ers and speed up that process.

That is just an exam­ple of the many obsta­cles we face,” noted Pal­a­dio.

To make mat­ters worse, COVID-19 con­tain­ment mea­sures have hit agri­food machin­ery com­pa­nies, with con­se­quences for the whole sec­tor.

The pro­longed stop to the agri­cul­tural machin­ery sup­ply chain is hit­ting the farm­ers,” warned Coldiretti Pres­i­dent Ettore Pran­dini. Grow­ers can­not find enough work­ers and do not have easy access to machin­ery sup­plies, agri­cul­tural equip­ment and spare parts, all [of which] is needed to work in the field.”

And while unions, asso­ci­a­tions and gov­ern­ment strug­gle to find and imple­ment solu­tions, wild boars are seiz­ing the oppor­tu­nity to roam in unworked fields. In sev­eral areas of the coun­try, farm­ers have warned of large herds of boars and other ani­mals wan­der­ing through agri­cul­tural lands. The road to recov­ery for the agribusi­ness sec­tor will also have to lead them away from the crops.



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