Competition with cheaper lemon producers abroad forced Italy’s Amalfi lemon growers to open up to tourism for survival, but COVID-19 has snatched that form of income from them too.
Down in the coastal town of Amalfi, signs advertise tours of the lemon groves up on the hillside. Visitors are told they can walk through the lemon groves, learning about the cultivation process and then the products, like limoncello, that are made from Amalfi’s famous Sfusato lemon.
Despite this now-protected lemon being grown for centuries along the terraces of the Amalfi Coast, farmers have been struggling for years as countries such as Argentina, Morocco and Turkey began putting much cheaper lemons on the market.
The production costs of Amalfi lemons are high because the cultivation and the harvest are done by hand. It is grueling work on the precipitous terraces, climbing hundreds of steps a day and shouldering baskets of lemons weighing 50 or 60 kg.
For this reason, local labor is hard to find. Many young people prefer to work in the restaurants and bars down on the coast.
With the Amalfi Coast relying more and more on tourism for its economy (some 95% of its income is now from tourism), it seemed the only option for the Amalfi lemon groves’ survival too. Farmers like Salvatore Aceto (pictured) have opened up their terraces to tours and, in Aceto’s case, an agriturismo.
Tours and limoncello tastings have been key to the lemon growers’ income in the last years, but the COVID-19 emergency has meant this economic lifeline has also been cut this year.
Italy has opened its borders to countries including those in the Schengen Zone and the UK, but the country remains closed to the USA, a real blow for the Amalfi Coast. The area is particularly popular with Americans, with one hotel attributing 82% of his guests to the US. American visitors are also the biggest spenders in Italy, according to official statistics.
Low tourist numbers mean low sales for the Amalfi lemon growers, who will have to hope for lifted border restrictions soon and a late summer surge in visitor numbers.