Chile: Fedefruta voices concerns for potential lockdowns during peak fruit harvest
A Chilean fruit industry representative has voiced concern about the availability of seasonal workers in key production areas like the northern Atacama region, where the table grape harvests and now getting underway.
Jorge Valenzuela, President of Chile's Fruit Growers Association (Fedefruta), said that restrictions stemming from the Covid-19 pandemic have made it hard to receive workers from outside of the country.
“The pandemic is clearly complicating both the availability of workers and the quality of labor," he said.
In the midst of cherry harvest in the central region and the beginning of the grape harvest in the north, there is growing concern of an impending second wave of Covid-19 in January which would likely bring about new lockdowns in cities and growing regions at peak season.
At his speech at the county’s leading nursery event, Agro Plant Nuble, organized by the Chilean Nursery Association, Valenzuela said a second wave could cause difficulties. His comments came just before the Chilean Government announced it was re-imposing tougher restrictions of movement in the capital Santiago due to a rise in cases.
“These days, they are talking about a second wave of Covid-19 in January, just when we will be in full harvest time in all fruit-growing regions, with table grapes, cherries, berries, stone fruits and other crops,” he said.
“Therefore, as long as we have traceability in our actions and rigorously enforce the protocols which we have agreed upon, we will be able to continue operating.”
Fedefruta’s president maintained that an eventual lockdown for a particular growing region or city will “cause us logistical problems and fresh fruit delays which we cannot give wait times. A hard lockdown in any given region will, of course, mean problems. So our duty, as a federation, is to be very responsible. We will take care of our fields and our crops.”
He went on to say: "I’ve just arrived from Copiapo in the north, where they are starting the table grape harvest, and there was a large number of people from Bolivia that haven’t been able to enter Chile as a result of the pandemic."
In that same vein, he explained that Atacama growers have had to mobilize workers from other regions, "which has implied a rise in costs and brought in labor with little knowledge of the specific work required for table grapes in the north".
"In this way, the pandemic is clearly complicating both the availability of workers and the quality of labor," he said.
For the moment the sector should pay close attention to training people, to mobilizing workers while taking every precaution, and to the protocols for avoiding Covid-19 in the fields, the plants, and the routes, Valenzuela said.