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Knowledge exchange to Apulia for Moroccan and Tunisian olive oil sector players

@fao/Mohamed Mansouri - Olives


Olive production in Morocco and Tunisia, as in Italy, is an old tradition. While Morocco is a large producer and exporter of table olives, Tunisia is the world's third largest exporter of olive oil, after Spain and Italy. But staying afloat in what is a highly competitive global market means improving quality standards, efficiency and marketing.


In October, FAO and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) organized a four-day knowledge exchange to Italy for a group of Tunisian and Moroccan olive growers and olive oil producers, traders, government representatives and other industry actors.


The exchange, arranged in collaboration with the International Centre for Advanced Mediterranean Agronomic Studies (CIHEAM), was part of a larger FAO and EBRD regional initiative to improve food quality standards in the two North African countries.  


The group travelled through Apulia, one of Italy's major olive-growing regions, meeting with farmers, technical experts and scientists, local authorities, associations of olive oil producers and cooperatives. 


They saw how Italy's olive oil sector works, from the use of state-of-the-art technologies to efficient production methods. They discussed how, through dialogue among stakeholders, the country is working to control Xylella fastidiosa, a deadly bacteria seriously affecting the southern province of the region.


They also learned how Italian producers are organized to promote their olive oil, both domestically and abroad, and how the region has successfully developed tourism around its remarkable heritage of olive groves and products. 


A well-organized value chain  


In Italy, sophisticated production and processing techniques and a well-organized supply chain have enabled the olive oil industry to become competitive and profitable, and to gain global recognition for its quality.  


Indeed, large cooperatives have been raising the profile of Italian extra virgin olive oil worldwide, producing and marketing high-quality products tailored to consumer tastes.  


AssoPrOli, one of Italy's largest olive oil producers' organizations, provides technical training to its members on improved agronomic practices and environmental sustainability, promotes quality and safety standards through traceability and certification and helps professionals get better organized within the sector.  


Seeing this level of organization, cooperation and market-orientation in Italy provided the group with valuable lessons to take back home. They left with a better understanding of the importance of efficient interprofessional organizations, such as AssoPrOli.  


"We want to move in the direction of AssoPrOli, offering useful services to our members, involving all actors in important decisions and becoming a strong voice in our country's policy discussions," said Ahmed Khannoufi, Director of INTERPROLIVE, Morocco's olive oil interprofessional organization.  


For Giovanni Martellini, head of quality in Oliveti d'Italia, one of Italy's largest and most important consortia of olive growers, cooperatives, oil mills, producer associations and firms, stronger Tunisian and Moroccan olive oil value chains will lead to fairer market competition.   


"I look forward to seeing olive oil from Morocco and Tunisia on Italian markets, entirely produced and bottled in these countries and labelled as such," he said. "We can work together within the region for a more efficient and fairer market."    


Keeping trees healthy  


The trip also raised awareness on the importance of better phytosanitary systems to prevent the spread of plant diseases throughout the region.  


The first strains of the deadly insect-borne bacteria Xylella fastidiosa were detected in Puglia in 2013. According to 2015 data from the Italian Ministry of Agricultural, Food and Forestry Policies, to date more than 500 000 hectares of land have been affected.   


"To keep olive groves healthy and protect this important source of rural incomes, countries must strengthen their prevention, early detection and rapid response systems," said Franco Valentini, a CIHEAM Xylella fastidiosa expert.  


"It is extremely important for Mediterranean countries to work together and regularly share information and knowledge," he added.  


Driving rural development  


Another important takeaway was the way in which Puglia has built a robust tourist industry around its vast stretches of ancient olive groves - some more than two thousand years old.   Tourists flock to places called "Masserie" - 16th century farmhouses transformed into agro-tourism structures - to enjoy the natural beauty, learn more about the history of olive production and sample and buy certified high-quality olive oils that are distinctive and unmistakably from the area.  


"This is something we haven't really developed in Tunisia yet, but I'm inspired by what Italy is doing. There are many interesting possibilities for us to promote our cultural and natural heritage," said Chokri Bayoudh, Director-General of Tunisia's Office National de l'Huile. "Creating a national park or developing the agro-tourism industry could really drive rural economic growth."  


Going forward, more needs to be done in Tunisia and Morocco to support initiatives aimed at increasing value chain integration to boost quality standards, value-added and export development in agribusiness and other strategic sectors and rural development.  


Building on this learning, FAO and the EBRD will continue to work with all stakeholders in both countries, fostering public-private dialogue and cooperation for more efficient, inclusive and profitable olive oil value chains.


For more information about this project, click here

For more information about the study tour, click here


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