Will Covid-19 structurally change the agricultural labour market?

Agriculture is well placed to provide livelihoods to those struggling to enter the workforce, and the entire food value chain has been classified as ‘essential’, which has enabled activities to continue in this sector.

Most European and North American countries are generally regarded as food secure and hold a prominent place in the Global Food Security Index. This means these regions should be able to weather the Covid-19 pandemic with minimal concerns about food security. However, the growing challenge in the agricultural sector in countries like Germany, Italy, France and the Netherlands, among others, is the shortage of farmworkers due to border closures which attempt to contain the spread of Covid-19. 

This will have immediate and significant implications since it will limit the movement of many farmworkers from Eastern Europe. This challenge is not limited to Europe; parts of the US also fear the shortage of labour which is typically seasonal from Mexico. This is a country that had started raising concerns about farmworker shortages pre-Covid-19 and now faces the prospect of not being able to access around 10% of crop-farmworkers due to challenges in processing the so-called H-2A visa for temporary farmworkers coming from neighbouring countries.  The pandemic will likely exacerbate the situation. Farmers across these countries worry that crops may rot in the fields, and that could weigh on their finances.
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The South African Pork Producers’ Organisation (SAPPO) coordinates industry interventions and collaboratively manages risks in the value chain to enable the sustainability and profitability of pork producers in South Africa.