Italy

Give Us This Day Our Daily Bread

How the agri-food sector is grappling with the coronavirus epidemic

Italy covers less than 0.5% of the planet’s land surface, and yet it boasts the highest number of edible plant species, as well as fish (10,500 species), native grape varieties (1,200), species of olive (533), wheat (140) and types of cheese (487). The country’s biodiversity is unique and the agri-food sector plays a significant role in its economy.

The coronavirus epidemic has dealt a severe blow to this sector, due to the closure of restaurants, canteens and bars. Many small/medium-sized farms, which used to supply the catering industry with quality products, have seen their turnover cut in half. Most of these companies are trying to fall back on e-commerce channels with home deliveries either by courier or their own staff.

The major producers, on the other hand, are faced with an increase in demand from supermarkets as Italian families stockpile food for the lockdown. If demand were to outstrip supply, large-scale distribution suppliers would paradoxically find themselves in difficulty, as it would be too expensive to turn to small suppliers.

The slowdown in the engineering and construction sectors makes it difficult to find spare parts for the machinery and materials necessary for the maintenance of farm buildings. Seasonal labour from abroad has also been blocked with the closure of borders.

In spite of all these difficulties, farmers and stockbreeders continue to work hard and to plan for the future. Never before has the Italian population been so aware of the effort and sacrifices behind the products on the shelves of its food shops. And if the availability of products in these shops has remained constant, then it is thanks to the food supply chain, which hasn’t stopped working for a single day since the lockdown began.

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