Promoting Olive Oil Production and Market Access for Small-Scale Olive Farmers
Production of olive oil in Palestine varies from year to year and faces logistical challenges, as movement restrictions lead to high transport and distribution costs. To increase the income of some marginal olive farms, the EU funded a three-year project targeting almost 2,400 olive-farming households in ten villages in the West Bank. The project aimed to improve efficiency providing olive farmers with training on pruning techniques and pest control, to improve product quality by clamping down on adulteration, and to phase out the practice of storing harvested olives in plastic bags. Delays in sending collected harvest to presses were reduced and hygiene at olive presses was improved. A number of olive mills in the area were refurbished and provided with spare parts and technical training. To offset high production and distribution costs, the target switched towards the high end of the market, particularly fair-trade and organic markets. Further, a special marketing niche for Palestinian extra-virgin olive oil was set up.
Production at the farms of certified organic fair-trade olive oil increased from 112 tonnes in the first year to 282 tonnes in the third year of the project. By the end of the project, 467 new farmers became certified as organic producers and the area of land dedicated to growing olives using the organic system increased by 338% as against a target of 200%. With the help of olive oil experts, farmers concentrated on single varieties of olives and the skills of the country’s national olive oil tasting panel improved. Product quality improved through the identification of the best harvesting date for particular cultivars and the optimum amounts of irrigation water needed. The project is widely seen as a success with olive oil from area recently taking a number of national and international awards for its quality.