CASALE DEL BOSCO, Italy (AP) – Summer is coming to Italy’s wine region in Tuscany, and the leaves of the vines sparkle with gold and green.
Yahya Adams moves his gloves through the foliage, removing excess buds and shoots to make the vines stronger.
He is one of 24 asylum seekers from Africa and Asia working in the vineyards of Tenute Silvio Nardi on this year’s harvest of Brunello di Montalcino, one of Italy’s most famous wines.
They come from Ghana, Togo, Sierra Leone, Guinea Bissau, Pakistan and other countries, with no previous winemaking experience. But they’ve found temporary work here through a local non-profit group that helps asylum seekers find legal employment in vineyards or olive groves while their claims are being processed.
Adams, a 21-year-old Ghanaian, enjoys learning the trade.
“I like to study how the plant grows and I want to improve myself in this job,” he said. “And someday I might teach the others who come in how to do the job, how to manage the plants, everything. “
Adams left Ghana when he was only 14 to look for work abroad. He spent two years in Libya, a conflict-ridden country in North Africa where many migrants hoping to reach Europe face abuse and extortion by ruthless smugglers.
Adams said he was being temporarily held captive in Libya and considering returning home to Ghana before traveling to Italy on a boat with 118 other migrants. After living in centers for unaccompanied minors, he tried to find work in Belgium, but returned to Italy, where he is now enrolled in the agricultural work program of the Cooperativa Agricola San Francesco.
The NGO aims to bring asylum seekers into the labor market with the same wages and working conditions as Italians, moving them away from the unofficial system known as “caporalato” in which migrant workers are often exploited. . The phenomenon is widespread among seasonal workers in the agricultural sector, where nearly 40% are hired irregularly, according to the Placido Rizzotto Observatory, a union watch group monitoring the infiltration of organized crime in agriculture.
“Some of them, they can tell you, for three or four years they worked on the black market, without a contract, nothing, so they didn’t exist. They had no social security, nothing. Here they have a contract, there is hope, ”said Salis Godje, who coordinates the Cooperativa Agricola San Francesco program.
Godje, who came to Italy from Togo as a student and obtained a degree in economics, said asylum seekers selected for the program receive training to learn the basics of working in the vineyard. After that, they make three seasonal stays in the vineyard, pruning in winter and summer and harvesting in the fall.
Nicola Peirce, the president of the NGO, said workers are paid around 7 euros ($ 8.52) an hour and work eight hours a day, in line with the Italian union’s demands for agricultural work. Others who end up working irregularly often earn half as much while working longer.
The program is now in its second year at Tenute Silvio Nardi, a family winemaker established in the 1950s in the hills of Casale del Bosco. Each year, it produces 210,000 bottles of wine made from Sangiovese grapes, including 160,000 bottles of Brunello di Montalcino, aged five years before being marketed.
Asylum seekers work in teams of eight across 15 hectares (40 acres) to prune vines under the supervision of agronomist Vittorio Stringari.
“You have to have a little patience at the start,” Stringari said. “As with anyone who starts a new job, there is a learning phase. But given that they are very motivated… they very quickly fill the technical void.
Adams considers himself lucky to have a job he loves and earns enough to send money to his family in Ghana for.
“If I had this job in my country, I wouldn’t go anywhere,” he said.
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