The Covid-19 crisis has exposed weaknesses in U.K. food security and supply chains, particularly in relation to seasonal and perishable foods. The Covid-19 crisis has resulted in reduced international travel to and from the U.K., including the migrant labour force, mainly from Europe, needed to harvest fruit and vegetable crops. The situation has been compounded by Brexit and the removal of freedom of movement, which makes migration more complex for those wishing to travel from European countries which have traditionally supplied the labour force needed for the U.K. harvest. The high rates of Covid-19 related deaths in the U.K. has also led to a perception of the U.K. being a less safe country in terms of likelihood of infection for those travelling to the U.K. to work.
In addition a key government response to the pandemic has been to use lockdowns and restrictions of movement as a way of reducing transmission of the virus. This method of combatting coronavirus is likely to be used in response to any future pandemics. This pandemic control measure has increased harvesting difficulties as migrant labourers employed to harvest crops normally travel from farm to farm and region to region as different fruit and vegetable crops come into season.
The Covid-19 crisis has brought into sharp focus the precarious nature of the supply and availability of the labour required at critical time frames in the season to harvest farm crops. The crisis provides the opportunity to rethink how we can guarantee the supply of seasonal crops which require labour to harvest. Solutions which reduce reliance on migrant labour from abroad, which require less human movement from U.K. region to region during the harvest season, are likely to be more robust, have a lower carbon footprint and be more sustainable and beneficial to all stakeholders.