Italy flies in foreign workers to help pick its crops

The Local Italy
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Italy flies in foreign workers to help pick its crops
Italy's produce needs foreign workers to be harvested. Photo: ANDREAS SOLARO / AFP

The first group of foreign farm workers, more than 100 Moroccans, arrived in Italy on Friday, via a so-called "green corridor" allowing them to fly in to help pick the country's ripening crops.


The coronavirus pandemic has threatened the ability of Italy -- among other countries -- to harvest its agricultural produce at the beginning of the summer season.

About 350,000 foreigners work temporarily each year in Italy's agricultural sector.

But this year the coronavirus has claimed over 32,000 lives in Italy and led to a lockdown which blocked the arrival of the agricultural workers.

READ: Italy's shops and restaurants struggle to reopen with new rules and few customers

Agriculture Minister Teresa Bellanova has said that due to coronavirus, the country would face a shortage of "between 250,000 and 270,000" day labourers.

Faced with this challenge, the confederation of farmers of Abruzzo, a mostly agricultural region in the centre of Italy, organised the trip to bring in 124 foreign workers desperately needed in their fields.

The special flight from Casablanca was the first under the renewed "green corridors" as the country gradually reopens from the virus lockdown.


One farm owner, Modesto Angelucci, 29, who grows potatoes, carrots, fennel and spinach in the region of Avezzano, in the centre of the peninsula, said the incoming workers were priceless.

"These are specialised workers who have been working for us for more than 20 years and I cannot easily replace them," Angelucci told TV channel La7.

READ: Italy's Covid-19 death toll 'could be underestimated by 19,000'

All the workers must comply with Italy's current mandatory two-week quarantine, he said, although negotiations with the government were ongoing for leeway, as some crops needed to be picked right away.

Angelucci financed the trip for about 10 of his workers, while other owners did the same for theirs.

Last month, Italy regularised hundreds of thousands of illegal migrants temporarily for six months in order to help solve the country's lack of field workers.

The opening of Italy's borders to other European Union members on June 3 is seen as a boon to the  agricultural sector, and the farming lobby group Coldiretti said farms were preparing to organise some 150,000 workers from places including Romania, Poland and Bulgaria.

One of the Moroccans who arrived on Friday, Mounam Benkirrou, told La Repubblica daily that working in the fields was a skill like any other.

"You start as a labourer and you learn," Benkirrou said, explaining that he had earned his licence to drive tractors.

Only about 30,000 Italians were registered in 2020 as day labourers, according to data from Confindustria, an industrial lobby group.



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