Olive oil producers can lead way to sustainable future
“Close your eyes and think of olive oil” and you’re most likely to think of “a typical Mediterranean meal” or “a beautiful olive grove”, Thierry Moyroud writes on the website Food Beverage Insider
But the CEO of Deoleo North America says there’s more to the story, just as important as these favourable impressions shared among consumers. “Today,” he points out, “olive groves have an even greater significance – for the planet’s future.
Olive oil is booming in popularity “thanks to the positive image of a healthy Mediterranean diet”, Moyroud writes, citing International Olive Council findings that global consumption increased by 91% since 1990, and by 5.8% in the last year alone.
“The olive oil industry is a positive economic driving force in many areas at risk of depopulation,” he writes, and quotes Interempresas, a widely read online Spanish-language portal of technical-professional content, as estimating that 30 million people make a living directly or indirectly from olive groves.
“But, as an industry, we must also tackle the challenges we face, from devaluation of the olive oil category to the climate crisis. And we must do so fast,” he says. The solution rests with sustainability. The future of the olive oil sector, communities around the world, and the planet itself relies on it.
“Sustainability is now a top driver for consumers, with 87% of people believing companies should integrate environmental concerns into their products, services and operations,” according to Boston Consulting Group.
Bertolli – one of Deoleo’s best-selling brands – has a strategy based on social, economic and environmental sustainability, Moyroud notes. In this way, crop stability is reinforced and lasting value is created for future generations.
Moyroud explains Bertolli’s Sustainability Protocol as a reference framework for the management of olive mills and their farmers, guaranteeing traceability from the olive tree to the table.
“In Spain – the largest producer of olive oil in the world – the traditional olive grove accounts for more than 70% of total cultivated land, of which more than 20% is non-mechanisable, according to the Spanish Association of Olive Municipalities. Already, more than 25% of these traditional groves are in the process of being abandoned. Almost 95% could disappear in the next decade.”
This grim forecast comes from a current article in the trade magazine Almaceita.
“Some 300,000 Spanish families of small farmers depend on this land, Moyroud writes. “They are the individual stories behind the olive oil on our kitchen tables.”
“At Bertolli, quality is the cornerstone of our strategy to re-evaluate the category, which can play a key role in preserving the land and livelihoods of these farmers and so many others.
“The land’s natural vegetal ecosystem is essential to a healthy growing environment for olive trees. Care should be taken therefore to leave native plants and vegetal ground cover to flourish through sustainable farming techniques such as minimal or zero tillage.
“This helps maintain nutrient-rich soil, defends native varieties and flavours, and improves the quality of olive oil in a responsible way. Additionally, it may contribute in an even bigger way by contributing to fighting climate change.
“Olive groves are a natural carbon sink,” he points out. “The International Olive Council has noted provisional studies suggest that, by absorbing carbon dioxide, one hectare of olive trees can offset humans’ annual carbon footprint. But unsustainable farming practices – including the use of herbicides to remove weed cover, pesticides that kill fauna, and poor water management – cause soil erosion, losing valuable carbon capture in the process.”
Olice oil producers must directly support farming families and local mills throughout the value chain, he says, whether through training on sustainable soil-management practices or offering certifications to incentivise the development of organic and energy-efficient agriculture.
“As producers, we must show our commitment to sustainability by creating best practices and guidelines, as well as providing farmers with the expertise to put them in action.
“We must lead by example, through good practices, transparency and honesty. Essentially, all players in the industry must take steps to mitigate the risks of a changing climate and ensure that olive oil production is done sustainably – for the sake of farmers, the planet and consumers. There is no single way to effect positive change, but with bold, unified action, a definite opportunity exists to make it happen. And the time is now.”