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200,000 apply for France's 'agricultural army' as virus grounds migrants

AFP-JIJI

More than 200,000 people have answered France’s call for idled workers to help crop and livestock farmers, desperate for extra hands as summer approaches, Agriculture Minister Didier Guillaume said Tuesday.

“Today we have more than 200,000 applicants, and we have 5,000 recruiters who are organizing the work,” Guillaume told France 2 television.

“We’re not going to make these people cross the country, they’re going to work near their homes, near farmers, but also in food industry, transport and logistics,” he said.

“It’s very important to make sure these products get to where they can be sold.”

Guillaume issued his appeal last month for a “great agricultural army,” amid a COVID-19 lockdown that has seen layoffs of tens of thousands of people as well as border closures that are depriving farmers of their usual force of migrant seasonal laborers.

The need for able bodies is urgent as harvests loom for asparagus, strawberries, tomatoes and other early season produce, and as livestock breeding begins in earnest.

The nationwide stay-at-home orders have also meant growing stockpiles of perishable goods for many producers as restaurants, school cafeterias and other major clients stay shut.

Guillaume said it was urgent to keep France’s food distribution channels running smoothly, warning that in case of breakdowns “there would not be enough for our citizens to eat.”

He also urged people to eat locally.

“If you can’t get to the countryside, the countryside will come to you — buy fresh products, fruits and vegetables,” he said. “Buy fish, buy seafood!”

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