Nuria is the Technical Director of the Asociación Subbética (AS) olive oil mills. AS is an Andalusian Cooperative Society, employing 140 workers, representing 13 sub-cooperatives. The members of these cooperatives are individual farmers; AS therefore represents about 6,500 farmers. The 13 cooperatives sell the oil produced from their olives through the Almaliva Group, a company with more than 60 years of sector experience in the province of Córdoba, Spain.
How has Deoleo supported farmers and their businesses with AS?
We have followed Deoleo’s Sustainability Protocol for the last three years. In that time, Deoleo has given visibility to our farmers; showcasing their hard work and dedication. All 13 cooperatives represented by AS are certified, with improvements being made when required. The farmers are aware of Deoleo’s commitment to them and feel recognised through the successful implementation of the Protocol.
In support of local communities, we also participate in Deoleo’s ‘Save the Good Oil’ project. Alongside 14 cooperatives, we seek to increase the focus on the work of farmers and mills in Córdoba and Granada to promote sustainable practices.
What social aspects has AS focused on specifically?
Many of our members work in traditional olive groves, with farmers prioritising the protection of their indigenous crops, the passion of the whole community and the quality of their oil. In one project, we focused on protecting the Picudo variety: for every child born to an AS member, we plant a Picudo olive tree.
With very elderly people in our collective it is important that we plan for the future. We want to help them by creating a time bank to fight loneliness. We are also working to support generational change for farmers.
In terms of community involvement, we have worked on solidarity projects, such as ‘Bottles with Soul’: for each bottle of olive oil sold, a percentage of the price funds research to find a cure for childhood leukaemia.
How does Deoleo offer support to help you improve or guarantee quality?
Deoleo has opened our minds, motivating us to improve further. Without the Sustainability Protocol, we would not have made these changes. Deoleo encourages us to improve, ensuring we are rigorous in our approach to achieve better results.
One of Deoleo’s key focus areas is quality, and they have been keen to help us by providing a quality control guide and requesting investments in facilities. Historically, the smaller cooperatives have struggled to adapt, as these represent significant investment. Thanks to Deoleo, even the smaller cooperatives are making changes to guarantee quality olive oil.
How has Deoleo helped AS focus more on protecting the environment?
Before working with Deoleo our efforts were not so well planned. Sustainable practices were not common among our members, but, thanks to Deoleo more farmers are now using regenerative methods that work in harmony with the environment and reduce contributions to climate change.
During the first year of our partnership, Deoleo helped us to map our ideas, and now we have developed annual objectives to keep us on track. For example, in sparsely vegetated areas of the countryside, the farms now need to have vegetation cover for at least 5% of their crops to protect the soil from erosion and boost biodiversity.
In the training sessions we run for farmers with Deoleo, the Protocol is explained as well as the benefits of looking after the land with a sustainability mindset. The soil is the heart of the olive tree: if you take care of the soil, you will get better olives. We also focus on organic and integrated farming, hiring technicians to help us transition to a best practice approach.
As we are in a dry area, it is important to create irrigation plans. For example, by using the remaining water from the municipal reservoirs, we will irrigate 129 hectares that are currently hard to reach.
Our members have been hit by two fires this season, with 300 hectares burned. Well-maintained land represents less of a fire risk, so we introduced grazing of animals such as horses, sheep and cows as a fire control measure.
These situations are harder to manage in the more remote parts of the countryside. Some cooperatives have already planted more vegetation in their fields. We are encouraging farmers to install nest boxes, insect hotels, beehives and amphibian proliferation ponds to continue supporting biodiversity.