The strawberry sector has called on the Moroccan and Spanish governments to allow 9,000 seasonal workers to travel from Morocco to Spain.
Essaouira – The growing novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has already caused a shock to the global economy, shutting down international travel and deeply impacting the tourism and transports sectors in particular. Spain’s soft fruit industry is set to become the next coronavirus casualty.
As the red fruit harvest season approaches, Spanish farmers find themselves with no seasonal workers, meaning that the annual harvest could go to waste.
The strawberry farmers of Huelva, southern Spain, have called on Morocco to allow 9,000 seasonal workers to cross the border for the harvest.
Over 60% of the workers arriving annually for the strawberry harvest in the southern Spanish region come from Morocco, meaning that the North African country’s decision to suspend air and maritime travel has cut off the majority of the sector’s workforce.
The demand for strawberries across Europe is at its peak at this time of year, and the sector is set to lose millions of euros if the harvest does not go ahead.
Every year, thousands of seasonal workers travel from Morocco to Spain for the red fruit picking season. The strawberry pickers, predominantly women, send money home to their families, who, in turn, depend on the money from the fruit harvest.
In November 2019, Spain put out a call for 16,500 seasonal workers to travel to Huelva and the surrounding region for the 2020 fruit picking campaign.
The call for workers came after consultation with a delegation from Morocco’s Ministry of Employment and Vocational Integration who had visited the region in preparation for the recruitment drive.
The Spanish authorities shared plans to hire 11,000 Moroccan workers who had already participated in a previous strawberry harvest season, as well as 5,500 first-timers.
Lock-down in Spain and Morocco
It appears unlikely that the Spanish or Morocan government will step in to save the soft fruit industry from becoming the next coronavirus casualty as both countries remain on lock-down.
Morocco announced yesterday a state of emergency to begin today, limiting unnecessary movement and enforcing a period of self-isolation to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus.
The decision came after the number of local cases of the virus began to grow. The total number of infections in Morocco hit 74 this afternoon.
The North African country suspended all air and maritime routes to Spain, as well as the land borders with the Spanish enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla, last week.
Spain has become one of the hardest hit countries in Europe, today becoming the fourth country to reach over 1,000 deaths from the pandemic.
A total of 1,002 people have died from the virus in Spain, while almost 20,000 people have been infected.
The European country has, however, recorded 1,588 recoveries. With the fast-paced spread of the pandemic in both Morocco and Spain, it remains to be seen if the strawberry industry will be able to pull through or will join the tourism industry as one more of the virus’s victims.