FAO Investment Centre

Gaining a foothold in a crowded market

FAO and EBRD help southern and eastern Mediterranean countries raise the profile of their olive oils, boosted by a new agreement between FAO and the International Olive Council

Gaining a foothold in a crowded global olive oil market involves improving quality standards, productivity and efficiency – from field to shelf – and better marketing.

Over the last several years, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) have been supporting the olive oil industries in Morocco, Tunisia, Jordan and the West Bank and Gaza Strip to do just that.

Activities ranging from technical trainings on best agronomic practices, export development and olive oil tasting to international study tours and policy dialogue are helping the countries improve sector efficiency and raise the profile of their olive oils at home and abroad. The European Union provided funding for initiatives in Morocco, Tunisia and Jordan.

This work is set to get a boost thanks to an agreement recently signed by FAO and the International Olive Council (IOC) formalizing their cooperation.  

FAO Investment Centre Director Mohamed Manssouri welcomed this move, noting the importance of thriving olive oil industries for the economic growth of southern and eastern Mediterranean countries.   

“Olive oil is an important export for many countries in the region. It is also a major source of income for small-scale producers. This agreement is a great opportunity to strengthen our assistance to olive oil producing countries as they seek to make their olive oil sectors more sustainable, competitive, inclusive and resilient to shocks like climate change or the COVID-19 pandemic,” he said. 

Increasing consumer awareness

“Through these initiatives, FAO and the EBRD are promoting responsible investments along the entire olive oil supply chain, from primary production to processing, bottling and marketing,”  said Othman Tlemcani, Principal Banker from the EBRD, which recently signed a package with FAO to support EBRD countries of operation to respond to the COVID-19 crisis, including the olive oil sector in Tunisia. 

In Morocco, which boasts good growing conditions and local olive varieties like the Picholine marocaine, attention has recently turned to improving quality, labelling and traceability systems.

With FAO and EBRD support, Interprolive, the country’s inter-professional olive federation, is encouraging Moroccan consumers to buy better quality Moroccan olive oil that is packaged, sealed and labelled rather than in bulk. 

FAO and the EBRD organized olive oil tastings and trainings to sharpen people’s skills at recognizing the hallmarks of high-quality olive oils. 

Improving productivity and quality

The two agencies also carried out trainings on olive oil production best practices, including proper olive pruning techniques, and best agronomic practices for healthier trees and increased productivity and quality.

They brought a group of Moroccan and Tunisian producers and industry figures to Italy’s Apulia region to learn from Italy’s experience, including how to control the Xylella fastidiosa bacteria that is decimating an increasing number of olive orchards in the Mediterranean.

Adding value

In Tunisia, FAO and the EBRD supported olive oil industry stakeholders to map out a common vision, strategy and action plan – crucial for building public-private consensus on everything from raising quality standards to accessing new markets. 

Tunisia has good potential to tap into international olive oil markets with bottled, value-added and organic extra virgin olive oils. The country is already one of the top global exporters of olive oil, but so far most of its oil has been sold in bulk.

The EBRD and FAO are helping a group of emerging small and medium enterprise (SME) exporters in the country gain high-level food safety certification like the British Retail Consortium, which focuses on improved food safety and quality management systems, product controls and traceability. 

Identifying opportunities

FAO and the EBRD recently carried out comprehensive reviews of the respective olive oil sectors in Jordan and the West Bank and Gaza Strip to identify constraints and opportunities.

By pinpointing gaps in know-how and financing, as well as the environmental impacts of olive oil production, the analysis will inform the investments and trainings needed to improve the performance of the sector, while making it greener.

Recently, 15 Jordanian SMEs participated in a training organized by the Centre for the Promotion of Imports from developing countries (CBI) from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands, with support from FAO and the EBRD. The session focused on good practices that can raise the quality of Jordanian olive oils to the levels required for export markets.

Energizing the olive sector

The new agreement between FAO and the IOC will help energize the olive sector in producing countries and enhance the technical assistance that FAO provides to the sector with long-standing partners like the EBRD.  

It will promote greater knowledge sharing on new trends and drivers that can impact the olive sector’s development, including expertise on genetic resources and plant protection.

It will also involve the development of educational material, trainings and awareness-raising activities on olive oil quality and sustainable production, as well as policy dialogue.

“Formalizing this relationship lets us frame the scope of our already long-standing relationship,” said Abdellatif Ghedira, Executive Director of the IOC. “It sets out the terms and conditions of collaboration so that we can develop, promote and strengthen joint activities to support a more efficient and sustainable olive sector.”

Photo credit ©FAO/Daniel Beaumont