The project 'Working with farmers' was launched by the Swiss Union of Farmers and the Swiss State Secretariat for Migration in 2015 and aimed to solve two problems: Integrating refugees and filling the employment gap in Switzerland's farming and livestock sectors.
Of 45 trial places that were made available on the program, 30 were filled. Each worker received 3,200 Swiss francs (€2,772) per month and an additional 200 Swiss francs (€173) for successfully overcoming the required bureaucratic hurdles. 21 of the 30 participants received further work or a permanent contract at the end of the trial phase. The project cost 280,000 Swiss francs (€242,000) over three years to implement.
Following a review of the project by the School of Agricultural, Forest and Food Sciences (HAFL) in the canton of Bern, the scheme will now be extended until 2022, according to a statement issued by the Swiss government's portal on August 8th.
The evaluator's report noted that the participants' language abilities improved throughout the scheme, as did their social and professional skills, according to the employers.
The national nature of the project however entailed a large amount of coordination and red tape, according to the organisers. Participants often had no driving license or vehicle and faced difficulties getting to and from work in rural areas. The report also notes that the "familiarization" phase was "complicated" – many of the participants were not accustomed to the rhythms of agricultural life and language and culture barriers took time to erode.
Five cantons – Bern, Aargau, Ticino, Friburg and Neuchâtel – have proposed that the project nevertheless be extended from August 2018 and that participants be offered the opportunity to receive formal training at a Swiss agricultural institute before starting their job. Twelve refugees will begin a course in mid-August at the Inforama Rütti adult education centre just outside the Swiss capital Bern.
The largest number by far of agri-food chain employers are in Bern, followed by the cantons of Lucerne, St Gallen and Zurich respectively.
The preparation for apprenticeships in agriculture will form part of a national migration policy that will see between 800 and 1,200 refugees and residents on short term stays trained for positions in the Swiss labour market in ten different sectors by 2022.
"At the end of this training, refugees will have a good overview of the world of work in agriculture," says the government's statement.
In 2017, Switzerland raised more than 11,000 chickens in the poultry sector. The number of poultry raised doubled between 2000 and 2016, according to the latest data from Switzerland's Federal Office of Statistics.
More than a million tonnes of sugar beet, the most farmed vegetable, were harvested in 2016. Most livestock and crops are for domestic consumption, not for export, part of a food security policy undertaken by the Swiss government.
With Swiss employees representing less than 35 per cent of the total workforce in Swiss agriculture, the agri-food chain nevertheless relies on foreign workers. The average age of farm workers in 2017 was 50 to 59, a statistic which only emphasizes how unattractive the sector is to the younger workforce. In 2015, 547,000 jobs – 11 per cent of the total 5 million in Switzerland – were linked to the agri-food chain's 100,000 establishments.
Lofty figures, but employment in the agricultural sector has dramatically fallen in recent decades. In 2013, agriculture in Switzerland employed half the number of people it did in 1975, according to an earlier report by the Swiss government.