How coronavirus is hurting Spain’s farmers and fishermen

The start of spring is usually a profitable time for Sergio Gomez, a strawberry farmer in southern Spain, but the coronavirus pandemic has completely disrupted his harvest this year.

How coronavirus is hurting Spain's farmers and fishermen
Fishermen unload the day's catch in the port of Bueu, northwestern Spain. Photo: Miguel Riopa /AFP

“We have been losing money for five days now!” he said.   

Spain, like much of the rest of Europe, has been in a lockdown since mid-March to curb the spread of the virus and this has altered consumers' habits, with people making fewer trips to the supermarket and no longer eating

The closure of Spain's borders has added to the burden, leaving farmers struggling to bring in crucial temporary workers to pick produce and care for animals.

One of the hardest-hit crops has been strawberries from Huelva in the southern region of Andalusia, which supplies Europe with 90 percent of the fruit at this time of the year.

Demand for strawberries has been halved this year, according to farmers' unions.


Photo: AFP

And with the border with Morocco closed, only one-third of the temporary workers who usually come to pick strawberries were able to make the trip.    

“The whole sector is very frightened,” said Gomez, who exports 70 percent of his crop to France, Poland and the Czech Republic.   

Demand is “on a roller coaster”, he added.    

“One day I have an order and I have to work an hour extra, the next I am twiddling my thumbs.”

Manuel Piedra, secretary general of the UPA farmers' union in Huelva, said people were shopping as little as once every 10 days, causing sales of perishable goods to plunge.

“Consumers have completely changed their habits,” he said.

Missing sheep shearers

Uncertainty also reigns in the Mar de Plástico – “Sea of Plastic”, some 20,000 hectares of greenhouses in the province of Almeria where much of Europe's fruits and vegetables are grown.

“We don't know how the market will react, it's a lottery,” said Juan Antonio Criado, a local farmer who next week will start harvesting watermelons for export to Germany.

Adoracion Blanque, head of the provincial branch of farm union ASAJA, said foreign demand for vegetables has “remained practically the same” but farmers were struggling with a shortage of workers due to lockdown restrictions.

The government has pledged €236 million ($258 million) to help growers hire 200,000 workers.

A masked worker drives a tractor through a vineyard in Mallorca. Photo: AFP

“All food products are arriving (in stores) in absolutely normal quantities and qualities,” Agriculture Minister Luis Planas said this week.   

Livestock farmers will also suffer from travel restrictions.   

Gaspar Gonzalez of the Fovex Sat cooperative in the sparsely-populated southwestern region of Extremadura was counting on bringing over workers from Uruguay to shear 100,000 sheep between April and June.

They will arrive this year in May at the earliest.    

Finding local replacements will be hard because “here, unfortunately, this profession has disappeared,” said Gonzalez.

Falling prices

Meanwhile the price of meat has fallen, especially for lamb which has dropped nearly 40 percent.

Demand for meat and fish is down because bars and restaurants that buy a lot are closed.

“Everything sells, but at lower prices,” said Jose Malvido, a fisherman from the northwestern region of Galicia who said he had earned nearly half of what he usually does from the sale of turbot and sole.

His wife “moves around a lot” to sell his catch door to door to elderly people during the lockdown, he added.

The price of fish caught by Spanish boats in European waters has dropped by more than half, according to European fishermen's organisation Europeche.    

In the Mediterranean, more than 90 percent of boats have simply stopped fishing out of fear of being infected by the virus and a lack of protective equipment, said Basilio Otero, president of the Spain's National Federation of
Artisanal Fishing.   

In the Bay of Biscay off Spain's northern coast, fishermen have launched their annual mackerel campaign however, even though prices have almost hit rock bottom.

By AFP's Álvaro Villalobos 

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Spain’s middle-class youngsters the most likely to end up poor across all EU

Spain leads the ranking of EU countries with the highest risk of young people ending up in poverty as adults, despite coming from families without economic difficulties.

Spain is the fourth EU country with the highest inherited poverty
Spain is EU country with most middle-class young people who end up poor. Photo: Jaime ALEKOS / AFP

Spain is also the fourth EU country with the highest rate of inherited poverty risk, according to Eurostat, the EU Statistical Office.

Data on intergenerational poverty indicates that there is a correlation between the financial situation of the household you grew up in and the risk of being poor when you reach adulthood and in Spain, there is a strong link. 

The latest statistics available from 2019 show that the at-risk-of-poverty rate for the EU was 23 percent among adults aged 25 to 59 who grew up in a poor financial situation at home when they were 14 years old. This is 9.6 percentage points more than those who come from families without financial problems (13.4 percent). 

READ ALSO: Spain’s inflation soars to 29-year high

How the situation in Spain compares with the EU

Spain has become the EU country with the highest risk of poverty among adults who grew up in families with a good financial situation  – 16.6 percent.

This was followed by Latvia with 16 percent and Italy with 15.9 percent.

That statistics also show the countries where it is less likely to be poor after growing up in households without economic difficulties. These include the Czech Republic (5.9 percent), Slovakia (7.9 percent) and Finland (8.5 percent).

The overall poverty rate in the EU decreased by 0.1 percentage points between 2011 (13.5 percent) and 2019 (13.4 percent), but the largest increases were seen in Denmark (1.9 points more), Portugal (1.8 points), the Netherlands (1.7 points) and Spain (1.2 points).  

On the other hand, the biggest decreases in the poverty rate were seen in Croatia (-4 percent), Lithuania (-3.6 percent), Slovakia (-3.5 percent) and Ireland (-3.2 percent).

READ ALSO: Spain’s government feels heat as economic recovery lags

Inherited poverty

The stats revealed that Spain was also the fourth country with the highest rate of inherited poverty risk (30 percent), only behind Bulgaria (40.1 percent), Romania (32.7 percent) and Italy (30.7 percent).

This means that children of poor parents in Spain are also likely to be poor in adulthood. 

The countries with the lowest rate of inherited poverty risk were the Czech Republic (10.2 percent), Denmark (10.3 percent) and Finland (10.5 percent).

The average risk-of-poverty rate for the EU increased by 2.5 percentage points between 2011 (20.5 percent) and 2019 (23 percent), with the largest increases seen in Bulgaria (6 points more), Slovakia and Romania (4.3 points), Italy (4.2 points) and Spain (4.1 points).

The biggest drops were seen in Latvia (-8.5 points), Estonia (-8.0 points) and Croatia (-2.3 points). 

The largest gaps in people at risk of poverty when they reach adulthood were in Bulgaria (27.6 percentage points more among those who belong to families with a poor economic situation as teenagers compared to those who grew up in wealthy households), Romania (17.1), Italy (14.8), Greece (13.5) and Spain (13.4).