An agreement between Rabat and Rome is bringing back hundreds of Moroccan agricultural workers to help harvest Italy’s crops amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Rabat – Amid a workforce shortage due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Italy has opened “green corridors” for non-EU agricultural laborers, including many Moroccan farm workers, who had a long-standing work contract with Italian firms. The move comes as an attempt to help harvest the country’s summer crops.
On Thursday, May 21 the initiative’s first charter flight from Casablanca, which was carrying 124 Moroccan farm workers, arrived in the Italian city of Pescara via a so-called “green corridor.”
Another flight landed on Friday, May 22 with the same number of workers and a third flight is scheduled in the coming days, all departing from Casablanca.
The workers will be sent with four coaches from Pescara directly to their housing, where they will be quarantined, in order to respect all social distancing measures before they start working at their respective employers’ farms.
“They are highly skilled workers of whom Italian agriculture absolutely needs,” said Stefano Fabrizi, director of the Confagricoltura of L’Aquila to Italian daily La Repubblica in a video, explaining the reason that prompted his association to organize the flight to bring in the Moroccan farm workers.
Confagricoltura of L’Aquila is a branch of the General Confederation of Italian Agriculture.
“Defining them ‘seasonal’ is an understatement,“ the director said, adding that “they work with us 8 months a year, they support our high-quality production for large distribution abroad.”
Approximately 350,000 foreigners work temporarily each year in Italy’s agricultural sector.
“I have been working in Italy for thirty years,” explained Issam Salah, one of the returned Moroccan specialized farmers in the video. “I could never work in the factory. The profit is good if you can do everything.”
Italy’s 2020 farm labor shortage
This year the COVID-19 pandemic has claimed over 32,000 lives in Italy which led to a lockdown that blocked the arrival of the agricultural workers.
The Moroccan farm workers came to Italy after the Moroccan officials authorized two special flights, organized by the L’Aquila branch of the Italian agriculture association.
“We must thank the Italian embassy in Rabat, and in particular Matteo Romitelli, who handled diplomatic relations with the Moroccan authorities, keeping in daily contact with our office, with the agency that handled organizing the charter flights, and with Alba Star airlines,” said Confagricoltura L’Aquila’s Stefano Fabrizi.
The novel coronavirus pandemic has threatened the ability of Italy — among other countries — to harvest its agricultural produce at the beginning of the summer season.
According to a May 24 New York Times article, Italy’s “leading agricultural associations” have launched websites that have “drawn more than 20,000 applications, most of them from Italians, to fill the shortfall.”
Agriculture is the sector “where the new generations can find a future,” Agriculture Minister Teresa Bellanova told the source.
The COVID-19 emergency brought many Italians back to work in the fields, a job that has been carried out for years now largely by seasonal foreign laborers, now blocked in their own countries because of the virus.
“Agriculture doesn’t mean a return to the hoe,” added the minister, underlining how the sector today is characterized by high-level technologies and sophisticated mechanical and chemical systems, which require new and innovative skills.
Approximately 30,000 Italians were registered in 2020 as day laborers, according to data from Confindustria, an industrial lobby group.