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Keep what you sow: Fruit growers struggling amid coronavirus lockdown

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Keep what you sow: Fruit growers struggling amid coronavirus lockdown
Copyright  AFP
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With restaurants and food markets off the menu across Europe amid the COVID-19 lockdown, some growers fear they will have to throw produce away.

"Today the real fear is to have to throw strawberries away," said Jean Bélenguier, a strawberry and asparagus grower in Arles, France. "The demand whether in France or abroad has been non-existent for a week."

Their plight is compounded by some consumers considering fresh fruit and vegetables a luxury during a pandemic.

There are also fears about getting staff to pick the produce - confinement measures meant some couldn't get to farms to work.

For some, the immediate solution was to hire workers without any experience.

"At the start of the week we took on 20 local people, pretty surprising that the virus is sending us people, who are in need, who were self-employed and have no money," said Patrick Jouy, a strawberry grower in Sainte-Livrade-sur-Lot near Toulouse, France.

There is also the issue of countries closing their borders and stopping seasonal labour from moving around Europe.

Last year, German farmers employed nearly 300,000 seasonal workers in all, many from eastern Europe and willing to do heavy manual labour for Germany's minimum wage, currently €9.35 an hour.

This asparagus grower in Saxony-Anhalt, Germany, says his crop is almost ready but there are no workers to help harvest it.

"I am sure that we won't find any Germans for the field work, cutting asparagus, for the minimum wage," said Henning Hoffheinz, an asparagus farmer in Genthin.