Feeding the Nation

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

Launched at the Universities of Leeds and Oxford in October 2020, this research project is funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) as part of the UK Research and Innovation’s rapid response to COVID-19.

Dr. Roxana Barbulescu of the Centre for Ethnicity and Racism Studies (CERS), School of Sociology and Social Policy at the University of Leeds (PI) and Dr. Carlos Vargas-Silva of the Centre on Migration Policy and Society at the University of Oxford (Co-I) are leading the study.

The UK food and agriculture sector relies on seasonal migrant workers to plant, harvest and pack crops. 94% of seasonal workers in the UK are EU nationals. The COVID-19 pandemic poses unprecedented challenges to the recruitment and protection of seasonal workers, yet they remain essential to ensure food security throughout the UK during 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.

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.

The research team will work with the charity, New Europeans, to develop information and guidance materials for seasonal migrants, and with The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) to ensure that the project informs policymaking. The results of the study will be presented to the wider UK public through a virtual exhibition and media outlets.

Read the project launch announcement on the Faculty of Social Sciences’ News page.

Project information can also be found on the Centre on Migration Policy and Society (COMPAS) website.