Lessons learnt from a disruptive year for farmers

Manuel Delgado, blog article for SmartAgriHubs, farmers and the covid19 crisis

Lessons learnt from a disruptive year for farmers

Who would have thought that by March 2020 the whole European agri-food chain would have been put to the test? From an industry point of view, the COVID-19 pandemic not only disrupted most economic activities, but it also hampered the workflow of essential sectors such as agriculture.

A year after the crisis began, the situation still remains unresolved. Nevertheless, the community of SmartAgriHubs has learnt and shared diverse lessons about how to confront the situation in the months to come.

Legal certainty

Manuel Delgado, blog article for SAH, farmers need legal certaintyDuring the first months of 2020, there was no common strategy among Member States, which resulted in confusing regulatory standards that changed rapidly. The European Commission published a series of guidelines and, even though they recognised agricultural seasonal workers as essential workers, the situation was far from uniform across the Union.

In this regard, just like the monthly teleconferences that SmartAgriHubs partners hold, the continuous flow of information among national authorities, stakeholders and professionals in the sector is essential. Communicating in innovative ways, through online meetings or webinars, will boost the resilience of the agri-food industry.

Adequate funding

 After a successful European Commission call for expression of interest launched in July 2020, one interregional partnership was selected in the area of coronavirus-related innovative solutions. “País Vasco (ES), together with three regions, will focus on the support to an emerging industry sector for prediction and prevention of the coronavirus pandemic”[1]. This project exemplifies that via interregional cooperation and sustained support, innovative responses can be channelled towards the desired objectives.

SmartAgriHubs followed a similar approach for its Digital Innovation Hubs and Competence Centres, which resulted in a final report. The latter includes more than forty examples of effective innovations for the agricultural ecosystem that have been developed to confront the challenges posed by the pandemic. For example, creating mobile applications to effectively manage agricultural workers registered by employers and thus minimise labour shortages on farms.

Stable employment

Manuel Delgado, blog article for SAH, technology helped farmers with workforceRestrictions to movement imposed by regional and national authorities during the pandemic disrupted the activities of farmers around Europe. Mobile workers, be they seasonal or cross-border, are essential to the agricultural sector. To this end, private or public online platforms emerged during 2020 to match demand with supply on the labour market. However, given that part of the available workforce during the crisis was made up of volunteers, this was not enough.

The SmartAgriHubs community, on the other hand, proved itself to be resourceful by connecting diverse agricultural stakeholders. It is now clear that European countries should support the creation of specific reserves of workers to pool supply in those labour markets belonging to critical sectors. Not only employers and employees in the agri-food industry would benefit from such a policy, but the entire community and, above all, end consumers.

Lifelong learning

While preventing the disruption of the labour market may not always be possible during a severe crisis, equipping professionals with tools to be resilient will prevent losses caused by inaction or misinformation. The European Commission is pushing forward the Pact for Skills as well as the European Strategy on Safety and Health at Work. Upskilling and investing in the agricultural workforce will determine the pace and effectiveness of the industry in the years to come.

In this regard, the growing SmartAgriHubs portal is devoted to gathering best practices and thought-provoking reads and informing any interested party in and outside of the agri-food chain of these. Following this approach of free, reviewed and shared materials will be key to unlocking the creative potential of the agricultural community around the European Union.

Finally, a word for us all. As consumers, we play a vital role not only in changing the trends of the sector, but also in shaping and defining it. Maintaining the highest phytosanitary standards in the world is not easy, and so it is up to consumers to reinforce denominations of origin by supporting European farmers in their unwavering drive to provide our markets with healthy and seasonal products.

Manuel Delgado, Policy Advisor - Employment & Social Affairs at COPA COGECAManuel Delgado, Policy Advisor

Employment & Social Affairs at COPA COGECA


[1] “Coronavirus response and recovery: EU support for regions to work together in innovative pilot projects”, Press Corner, European Commission, 7th January 2021.

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