Feeding the nation: seasonal migrant workers and food security during COVID-19 pandemic

The UK edible horticulture sector relies on seasonal workers to plant, harvest and pack crops. 94% of seasonal workers in the UK are EU nationals. Travel restrictions and quarantines pose unprecedented challenges to recruitment, yet seasonal workers remain essential to ensure food security throughout the pandemic.

This project examines the recruitment and experiences of seasonal agricultural migrant workers throughout harvest seasons 2020 and 2021. Using 212 remote qualitative interviews and data analysis, findings will support policy interventions from our policy impact partner – the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs – and other stakeholders for which we will prepare monthly reports including comparative international analysis. Furthermore, we will co-produce with our charity impact partner – New Europeans – information materials adapted to the needs of seasonal migrants. To engage with the wider audiences and inform public views about seasonal migration, we propose a web-based Monitor and a virtual exhibition.

The project has 6 key objectives: (1) to provide information in real time on worker recruitment and retention in order to support evidence-based rapid interventions and mitigate risks for UK the food supply; (2) to provide information to limit contagion on farms; (3) to document the experiences of seasonal workers and farmers; (4) to inform decisions on the post-Brexit immigration system in light of possible future pandemics; (5) conceptually, to contribute to theories about the high demand for migrant labour in periods of high unemployment and (6) and to debates on the contributions of low skilled migrants as key workers.

Project website