Olive Sustainability Website
Not necessarily. The EVOO (Extra Virgin Olive Oil) organic production model might be the most sustainable, as long as it uses short distribution channels. However, organic production alone does not guarantee sustainable. Sustainable olive and olive oil production involves: improving the structural and nutritional quality of the soil; reducing dependence on external chemical inputs; increasing the agroecosystem's biodiversity and landscape quality; integrating practices and technologies to reduce energy consumption and waste generation (which will enhance the sector's medium-and long-term profitability).
No. Multiple combinations of management practices and technological solutions can create varying degrees of sustainability in the olive and olive oil production process:
- Maintaining herbaceous vegetation cover in olive groves.
- Diversification of the agricultural landscape (hedgerows, intercropping, native woodland, riverside forests...).
- Incorporating cattle.
- Use of organic fertilizers (composted pomace waste, manure, shredded remains of pruning, remains of weeding the vegetation cover...).
- Reduction or elimination of agrochemicals.
- Combining olive trees of different ages.
- Certified designations of origin provide added value.
In Portuguese, Italian and Greek olive groves it is common practice to maintain vegetation cover. In Spanish, Portuguese and Italian groves it is common practice to use shredded pruning residues. In Morocco, it is very common to see cattle grazing in olive groves. In Morocco and in Tunisia, phytosanitary products are little used in olive groves.
Yes, with the condition that it is certified, and thus complies with the requirements established by current organic production regulations.
However, for a growing percentage of consumers, some factors make them question its sustainability, mainly based on the distance between the end consumer and the use of plastic packaging.
Organic EVOO produced hundreds/thousands of kilometres away from the consumer has a high carbon footprint not present in locally produced EVOOs.
There is considerable concern in other countries about the impact that plastic food packaging can have on the environment and consumer health. Therefore, the gradual substitution of plastics by materials with higher recycling potential, especially glass, can be expected in the coming years.
The original conception of 'Sustainable Development' was exclusively environmentally based. However, over the last decades, the concept has been modernised to incorporate social and economic dimensions:
- Environmental sustainability: compatibility between productive activity and the conservation of the components and ecological relationships of ecosystems. The impacts of the activity should not exceed the system's capacity to replenish the resources consumed and to manage the waste and emissions produced.
- Economic sustainability: the ability of organisations to manage their resources and be profitable in responsible and long-term ways.
- Social sustainability: the capacity of a productive activity to maintain social cohesion based on the pursuit of common objectives. To this end, operators must mitigate their negative social impacts and enhance their positive social impacts, particularly those that can improve in the living conditions of workers and the local community.
It cannot be claimed that an olive grove is sustainable solely because it applies a combination of environmentally friendly management practices.
If the coming generation of olive and olive oil producers does not continue with this production model (lack of generational replacement), or if there is depopulation among local organic fertiliser suppliers, sustainable olive growing could cease to be viable for economic reasons.
If farm owners prefer to employ foreign over local labour, and/or if inefficient irrigation systems are used, olive groves may become unsustainable for social reasons.
The maintenance of vegetation cover, undoubtedly.
Apart from representing a much more attractive landscape, green cover has many other advantages:
- Prevents soil erosion by reducing the impact of rain.
- Keeps moisture in the soil, making water available to the roots of the olive tree.
- Provides food and shelter for many insect predators of olive pests.
- Provides habitats for flora and fauna, thus enhancing biodiversity.
- Retains nutrients that might otherwise be lost.
- Improves the texture and structure of the soil, favouring the root development of the olive trees.
- Prevents soil compaction, which favours the optimum development of the olive tree's root system.
Any benefit that an ecosystem (agro-ecosystem in the case of the olive groves) provides to society through improvement of the economy and people's health and/or quality of life.
Examples of ecosystem services are: producing clean water, forming fertile soil, providing natural resources and food, enhancing pollination processes and mitigating climate change.
There are 4 types of ecosystem services:
- Supply: food, timber, water (for agricultural use and human consumption), energy resources (firewood, coal, oil...), raw materials, minerals, genetic resources, active medicine ingredients...
- Regulation: climate regulation, water cycle regulation, improvement of air quality, soil erosion control, reduction of damage caused by natural disasters, disease and pest control, soil fertility, water regulation and sanitation, pollination...
- Cultural: educational values, sources 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.
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.