Whilst Italy has done well to maintain the production of its most famous food products, it may be facing a more fundamental problem. Just like other European nations, its farms rely heavily on migrant workforces to harvest and process crops.

Each year, around 370,000 labourers travel to Italy from countries including Morocco, Albania, India, and Senegal in order to take part in harvests up and down the country. With current lockdown measures severely restricting cross-border travel, however, many Italian producers are lacking the manpower to collect crops. According to Coldiretti (Italy’s national association of farmers), this shortfall currently stands at around 200,000 workers.

The solutions

With harvest time for early summer fruits beginning, the Italian government is considering a range of options to make sure Italian produce is not left wasting in the fields.

One of these is the ‘regularisation’ of up to 600,000 migrants that currently lack the legal status needed to take on paid work. Having entered the country illegally, many of these individuals live under the radar of the Italian State or are in the lengthy process of receiving a Permesso di Soggiorno (Permit of Stay). If granted legal status to remain in Italy and work (at least temporarily), then Italy would not only greatly expand its agricultural workforce, but decrease the possibility of undocumented migrants falling into the hands of organised crime.

With this legislation still being debated in parliament, another measure is aimed at encouraging Italians to get involved in farm work. Coldiretti’s ‘Job in Country’ scheme pairs understaffed farms with unemployed Italians.

Similar to other programmes across Europe (notably the UK’s modern ‘Land Army’, reminiscent of efforts during World War Two), this attempt would not only provide Italian producers with extra manpower but would supplement the incomes of individuals that have lost their jobs due to the pandemic.

And if this homegrown effort fails to give a boost to Italy’s agricultural workforce, then it might still be able to draw in help from Romania. According to some sources, the Italian government is currently in discussions with Romania in order to establish a safe ‘corridor’ for farmworkers to cross the border and fill Italian vacancies.

The consequences

The results of a continued labour shortage in the agricultural sector could be devastating. With a significant shortfall of manpower on Italian farms, Italian crops may simply go to waste. For international buyers, this means a probable increase in prices in the short to mid-term for. Although much of the produce may be destined for internal consumption (soft fruits), it’s worth noting that the tomato harvest is due to start in this period – signalling a future increase in the price of products such as tinned tomatoes and concentrates.

Whilst Italy is a world leader in processing different types of produce from all corners of the world (pasta and baked beans are just two examples), it’s own crops are still vulnerable to shifts in the labour market. If the Italian government is swift to take action, however, disaster may just be averted.

If you’re currently experiencing difficulty in your supply lines of Italian food products, then please get in contact with the Italian Food Experts. With over 20 years of experience and a network of trusted suppliers across the nation, we can help you source the product you’re looking for – and for no extra cost to you.