With Covid-19 keeping foreign seasonal labourers away and time running out before fruit and vegetables rot, an appeal to French people who are not currently working to help harvest crops and sow seeds has had mixed results.
A platform launched in mid-march called “Des bras pour ton assiette” has yielded around 150,000 applications so far but about 200,000 will be needed until the end of the harvest season in September, according to the FNSEA, the main agricultural sector union.
The greatest need is in the South of France.
Some farmers are impressed with the system. Noëlle Pasello who produces beetroot and sunflowers in Espiens in Southwestern France told Le Figaro newspaper that she was “very satisfied' with the 6 people she hired through the platform, though she accepted that they are not yet very fast at the job. But “with lockdown and the borders closed, we are badly in need of extra hands”, she explained. She said the 4 workers who sit on the sowing machine are separated from each other by barriers, and there are other measures in place to comply with Covid – 19 regulations.
But Mathieu Lucas, who manages a business producing red fruits and vegetables in Bailleul-le-Soc north of Paris, has had less success with the platform.
“I need 30 seasonal workers and every day about 200 people ring looking for work. But they are unskilled and live too far away, so I tell them not to come.” He thinks many who apply have an unrealistic idea of jobs in farming. “I get the impression that outsiders think it would be nice to spend some time in the countryside because the weather is nice at the moment”, he told Le Figaro, “but we want people who are really interested in the job.”
Another farmer suggested many French people would rather stay at home than do such a physically demanding job but that for the Ukrainians he usually employed, the salary offered compared favourably with pay back home.
World's biggest wholesale market to do home deliveries
While the race is on to pick fruit and vegetables before they rot, the Coronavirus lockdown has led to new problems shifting the produce already harvested .
Much of the fresh produce at the world's biggest wholesale market in Rungis, just outside Paris, usually ends up in restaurants and the thousands of local markets in France.
But with most markets closed except in small towns and villages where they are the main source of food, Rungis has adapted to the new reality.
From today ordinary shoppers will be able to order produce online directly from the wholesale market.
Food will be delivered for the moment only to Paris and the surrounding area, and only on Wednesdays and Fridays but the scheme might be extended.
The Economy minister Bruno Le Maire, meanwhile recently encouraged the major supermarket chains to stock their shelves as far as possible with French produce, to help the sector during coronavirus emergency.