Argentina: Still the third world

Here in Sicily, a laborer can earn up to 50 Euros ($70+) per day picking olives from the trees for us to process. That’s not a bad wage at all for low-skilled manual labor, is it? It’s a different story in Argentina, however, where low-skilled manual laborers earn between $2.46 and $3.45 for every 44-pound bag they fill with olives according to this report: Lack of Farm Workers in Argentina Weakens Vulnerable Olive Oil Industry.

In 2011 olive cultivation in Cuyo is expected to grow an astonishing 40 percent, but nearly half of this green gold will never make it to store shelves. There are simply not enough workers to harvest the olives, which must be individually handpicked and harvested. Industry leaders say they have never seen such a scarcity of labor in both the olive and grape sectors, despite a 2010 presidential decree providing migrant workers with universal child allowance and other benefits. In general Bolivian workers, not native Argentines, are the ones who rely on these services, but rarely access them due to the enormous time and effort it takes to get on the social assistance payroll. Still many workers receive the government handouts yet don’t report to work. Bolivians are superior workers, according to Arizu, who says that a typical Bolivian can produce 14 bags of olives a day whereas the average Argentine laborer brings in just eight.

At $2.46 per sack, 14 sacks of olives amounts to about $35, or nearly half what a laborer in Sicily would earn for a day’s work. It appears that Argentina’s olive oil producers are in a bind — they don’t have enough laborers to harvest their crops, but if they increase wages to attract the laborers, they’ll be uncompetitive in the global market, where olive oil prices have sunk due to the fact that so many major producers are not meeting global standards for quality and are blending their olive oil with cheaper oils and cutting corners across the board. Such is the way of things. Mamamiafoods doesn’t cut corners and we don’t water our oils down like so many competitors do, yet we still beat them on price. We account for more than 40% of all olive oil produced in Sicily in and Southern Italy, and that’s why.

Harvesting olives pays well if you work for the industry's high quality firms.


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