Centre d'investissement de la FAO

Moroccan olive oil players saw how Portuguese peers have built a thriving industry


Morocco has taken steps in recent years to raise the profile of its olive oils – both at home and abroad – by improving quality standards, productivity and efficiency, from field to shelf.

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) are supporting Morocco in this quest.

Technical assistance combined with EBRD lending operations complement investments along the olive oil supply chain targeting different players, from farmers and economic interest groups to small, medium and large olive oil companies.

This assistance, in turn, has enhanced quality, policy dialogue and capacity building and helped the private sector build linkages to improve access to export markets and finance.

Against this backdrop, a group of Moroccan olive oil industry insiders travelled in June through Portugal, a world class olive oil producer with growing export numbers. The goal was to see how public and private investment, modern production techniques, traceability systems and quality standards are making a difference.

The visit was organized by FAO and EBRD, in cooperation with Casa do Azeite, Portugal’s association of brand olive oil producers, and followed an earlier visit to Italy’s Puglia region in 2017.

According to Ahmed Khannoufi, Director of Interprolive, Morocco’s inter-professional olive federation, the knowledge gleaned from olive oil peers in other countries is invaluable.

“Our olive sector is vital to Morocco’s economy, which is why we are committed to making it stronger, more united, more resilient and more sustainable,” he said.

“We are inspired by what Italy and Portugal have done to build vibrant and competitive olive oil industries, including using the latest technologies to improve oil quality, enforcing strict food safety controls and supporting producers, including smaller ones, to become more productive and profitable,” he added.

A return on investment

Over four days, the group visited thriving olive oil associations and cooperatives, public and private companies, modern mills and local government authorities.

In Alentejo, Portugal’s most important olive oil producing region, investments in modern irrigation and more efficient olive groves are yielding impressive results.

Sovena, for example, one of the largest olive oil companies in the world, invested heavily in new olive grove plantations in the early 2000s. Today, the company owns thousands of hectares of intensive and super-intensive olive groves and modern mills, exporting its olive oils to over 70 countries.

The group learned more about the Alentejo Olive Oil Sustainability Programme. Led by OLIVUM in partnership with the University of Évora, the programme develops knowledge on sustainability practices with olive oil producers and aims to create a certified standard of environmental, economic and social sustainability for the sector.

Carving out a niche

Carving out a niche in a crowded market can be difficult. The group saw how different olive oil cooperatives and companies in Portugal – both large and small – are doing just that by diversifying and producing olive oil based on local varieties and traditional production methods.

Herdade do Esporão, for example, originally began as a wine producing estate, but now it applies the technical know-how and traditional methods used in making its wines towards creating top quality olive oil. 

And in recent years, the family-run Amor é Cego estate started making a 100 percent extra virgin olive oil from the Galega variety from a small olive grove that had been planted by the family’s grandfather three generations ago.

The group also visited the Cooperativa Agrícola de Moura e Barrancos, Portugal’s largest olive oil cooperative. It has the capacity to process over 40 000 tonnes of olives every year from 22 000 hectares of olive groves owned by 1 300 local producers. This translates to more than 7 000 tonnes of virgin olive oil each season, most bearing the PDO “Azeite de Moura” certification. 

“In Morocco, we have good local olive varieties like the Picholine marocaine, haouzia and menara,” said Asmaa Ben Maimoun, Service Chief in the Ministry of Agriculture’s Plant Value Chains Division. “I see similar opportunities on how we can give our products an edge in the market and also bring in smaller producers into the supply chain.” 

Cooperation key

The group met with the Portuguese Food and Economic Safety Authority to see how traceability systems work to ensure the quality of Portuguese olive oils – a move that is key to guaranteeing a product’s authenticity and gaining consumer confidence. 

“You really understand how vital it is for the public and private sectors to work together to create an economically viable olive oil sector,” said FAO Senior Economist Emmanuel Hidier. “You need the right policies in place and long-term public investment on quality standards, as well as private investment on everything from primary production and processing to bottling, certification and marketing.”

Over the years, FAO and the EBRD have supported Interprolive and Morocco’s Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries, Rural Development, Water and Forests with technical trainings, olive oil tastings, policy dialogue and international study tours.

In addition to Morocco, the EBRD and FAO are supporting the development of the olive oil sectors in Jordan, Tunisia, and the West Bank and Gaza.