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COVID-19: Foreign Labor & Strawberries

Nothing beats biting into a strawberry and having the juices drip down your chin. But have you ever stopped to think about where these strawberries come from and who picks them?

We'll start with a little geography lesson: Spain is in South-West Europe. Just above Africa. In fact, if you stand on the beaches of Spain and squint, you can even see Morocco. (Or that’s what someone told me when I was standing on a Spanish beach in college.).

Spain is the third largest producer of strawberries in the world (behind the U.S. and Turkey: source). Labor, as it turns out, is the most important input in strawberry production. Strawberries grow on low bushes and need to be picked when ripe, then quickly delivered to customers. Where does Spain get their workers to help with picking strawberries? Not surprisingly, a lot come from Morocco.

Everything seemed to be working fine in this relationship. Just this past November (2019), a plan was set between a Moroccan delegation and Spanish officials so that over 16,000 Moroccans would go work in the Spanish strawberry fields in 2020. (source)

And then along came March 2020. Just about the time when strawberries were entering peak season.

On March 15, Morocco suspended international travel (source)

On March 22, Spain went on lockdown (source)

So who is going to pick