Olive Sustainability Website

Frequent Questions

Not necessarily. The organic production model of EVOO (Extra Virgin Olive Oil) could be considered the most sustainable, as long as it uses short distribution channels. But it is not the only aspect required for the respect of the environment. Actually, sustainable production involves improving the structural and nutritional quality of the soil, reducing dependence on external chemical inputs or increasing the biodiversity and landscape quality of the agroecosystem. It also integrates practices and technologies that reduce energy consumption and waste generation as they guarantee the medium and long-term profitability of the olive grove.

No. There are multiple combinations of management practices and technological solutions applied to the olive grove that lead to varying degrees of sustainability in the oil and olive production process:

  • Maintenance of an herbaceous vegetation cover.
  • Diversification of the agricultural landscape (hedgerows, intercropping, patches of native woodland, riverside forests...).
  • Incorporation of cattle.
  • Application of organic fertilizers (composted pomace waste, manure, shredded remains of pruning, remains of clearing the herbaceous cover...).
  • Reduction or elimination of agrochemicals.
  • Combination of olive trees with different ages.
  • A certified designation of origin providing added value.

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In olive groves of Portugal, Italy and Greece, the maintenance of vegetal covers is a common practice. The application on the shredded pruning residues is frequent in Spain, Portugal and Italy. In Morocco, it is very common to see cattle grazing on olive groves. Both in Morocco and in Tunisia, the use of phytosanitary products in olive groves is not very widespread.

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Yes, on the condition that it is certified, thus complying with the requirements established by current regulations on organic production.

However, for a growing percentage of consumers, there are some factors that would question its sustainable nature, mainly the distance travelled to the consumer and the use of plastic packaging.

An organic EVOO produced hundreds or thousands of kilometres away from the consuming home has an associated high carbon footprint that is not present in locally produced EVOOs.

On the other hand, there is considerable concern in neighbouring countries about the repercussions that plastic food packaging can have on the environment and consumer health. Therefore, a gradual substitution of plastic by other more inert materials with a higher recycling potential, especially glass, can be expected in the coming years.

The original conception of 'Sustainable Development' had an exclusively environmentalist vocation. However, over the last decades, this concept has been modernized and now incorporates social and economic dimensions:

  • Environmental sustainability: compatibility between a productive activity and the conservation of the components and ecological relations of the ecosystem. The impacts derived from the activity cannot exceed the system's capacity to replenish the resources consumed and to manage the waste and emissions produced.
  • Economic sustainability: the ability of an organisation to manage its resources and generate profitability in a responsible and long-term manner.
  • Social sustainability: the capacity of a productive activity to maintain social cohesion thanks to the pursuit of common objectives. To this end, this activity must mitigate its negative social impacts and enhance the positive ones, especially those that imply an improvement in the living conditions of workers and the local community.

According to the olive grove, we cannot claim that a farm is sustainable just because it applies a certain combination of environmentally friendly management practices.

If the next generation does not intend to continue with this production model (lack of generational replacement) or if depopulation causes the departure of local organic fertiliser suppliers, olive growing could cease to be sustainable for economic reasons.

If farm owners prefer to employ foreign labour instead of local one, or if an inefficient irrigation system is used, the olive grove may no longer be sustainable for social reasons.

The maintenance of vegetation covers, undoubtedly.

Apart from creating much more attractive landscapes, green roofs have many other advantages:

  • Prevent soil erosion by reducing the impact of raindrops.
  • Keep moisture in the soil, leaving water available to the roots of the olive tree.
  • Provide food and shelter for many insects that are predators of olive pests.
  • Provide habitats for flora and fauna species, enhancing biodiversity.
  • Retain nutrients that might otherwise be lost.
  • Improve the texture and structure of the soil, favouring the root development of the olive tree.
  • Prevent soil compaction, favouring optimum development of the olive tree's root system.

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It is any benefit that an ecosystem (agro-ecosystem in the case of the olive grove) provides to society because it improves the economy, health and/or quality of life of people.

The ability to produce clean water, to form fertile soil, to provide natural resources and food, to enhance pollination processes or to mitigate climate change are examples of ecosystem services.

There are 4 types of ecosystem services:

  • Supply: food and timber, water (for agricultural use and human consumption), energy resources (firewood, coal, oil...), raw materials, minerals, genetic resources, active medicine ingredients...
  • Regulation: climate regulation, regulation of the water cycle, improvement of air quality, control of soil erosion, reduction of damage caused by natural disasters, control of diseases and pests, maintenance of soil fertility, water regulation and sanitation, pollination...
  • Cultural: educational values, source of inspiration, aesthetic and landscape values, social relations, rootedness to the land, cultural heritage and legacy, recreational and ecotourism services, scientific knowledge...
  • Support: water and nutrient cycles, soil formation, primary production, habitats for species, conservation of genetic diversity, etc.

Every olive grower should ask himself/herself the following question: How many of the abovementioned ecosystem services, apart from food production, does my farm provide to my relatives and neighbours?

The future of our civilisation depends, to a large extent, on the ability of humans to manage ecosystem services appropriately.

Once combinations of sustainable management practices start to be implemented in the olive grove, a whole network of ecological interactions is activated that will end up generating economic benefits for the farm. In the diagram below you can see the positive consequences of applying 4 specific sustainable management practices.

They are shown in the following scheme, in comparison with the conventional model.

There are various reasons, from 'romantic' to more pragmatic ones, that should prompt olive growers to start applying sustainable management practices on their farms immediately:

Scarcity of resources: the scarcity of water reserves recommends the use of efficient irrigation systems; the silting up of inland water bodies advises the immediate reduction of erosion rates; the pollution of watercourses and groundwater requires a reduction in the use of phytosanitary products. Moreover, the use of local sources of organic matter, not subject to global market speculation, seems a reasonable alternative in view of the current price escalation of fertilisers.

Changes in consumer behaviour: besides organoleptic characteristics, more and more consumers are looking for higher quality vegetable oils in terms of the absence of waste and the social and environmental responsibility of the producing companies.

Lack of self-sufficiency: the loss of soil fertility and the absence of ecosystemic regulation mechanisms in the olive grove lead to a dependence on external inputs that is increasingly unaffordable and poses a bleak outlook in the context of climate change, in the medium and long term. Fortunately, the potential of by-products and waste from the olive industry (as sources of energy and nutrients) is enormous.

European policies: the numerous framework programmes that will plan EU Agricultural and Environmental Policies in the coming years clearly state that sustainability will be the most valued element when granting aid or applying sanctions.

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