Russian farmers suffering as COVID-19 pandemic keeps Central Asian workers at home

1 year ago Web Desk 0

The shortage of the cheap source of labor provided by the foreign workers — hundreds of thousands are needed for the seasonal work — has reportedly created a crisis for segments of Russia’s agricultural sector and threatens its food chains.


The dire situation has prompted some Russian experts to call on Moscow to allow tens of thousands of migrant workers to enter Russia despite the lockdown in order to save the harvests.


Russian agricultural officials started sounding the alarm as early as April, with the Berry Producers Union urging the Agriculture Ministry to take measures to help them, according to RFE/RL.


The union reportedly warned that without migrant workers, Russian strawberry farmers would not be able to harvest more than 10 to 20 percent of the crop.


Similar concerns about the severe shortage of workforce were raised by regional officials in the Astrakhan and Volgograd oblasts, among others.


In a recent report, experts from the Russian Academy of National Economy and Public Administration suggested that the government should consider bringing “seasonal agriculture migrants by air transport” to Russia.


The experts recommended that the workers be put under the two-week quarantine after they arrive to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.


They estimated that there is currently a need for some 500,000 additional workers in Russia’s agriculture sector.


Russia closed its borders on March 18 due to the coronavirus pandemic, which has hit the country hard.


To fill the gap in the labor market, some regional officials are turning to an alternative workforce, such as students and prisoners.


The coronavirus pandemic has left millions of people in Central Asia dependent on remittances from family members working in Russia facing extreme financial hardship and an uncertain future.


In the northern Tajik province of Sughd, part-time farm worker Bahriddin Bahriddinov told RFE/RL that he was “ready to do any job in Russia to survive,” if only the borders would reopen.


Unable to go to Russia, Bahriddinov said he was looking for other income options at home, as his monthly salary of about $70 doesn’t cover the needs of his family of five.


But in Tajikistan, where unemployment was rife even before the pandemic, Bahriddinov is competing against “an army” of job seekers, according to RFE/RL.


Source: Asia Plus