60 Years in, Olive Council Looks at Challenges Ahead

As part of the celebration of the 60th anniversary of the IOC, Executive Director Abdellatif Ghedira spoke exclusively with Olive Oil Times on the challenges facing the sector.

Mar. 15, 2019
By Ylenia Granitto

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The International Olive Council (IOC) cel­e­brated its six­ti­eth anniver­sary on a visit to Rome, where some of its top offi­cials gath­ered to dis­cuss the emerg­ing per­spec­tives and chal­lenges fac­ing the inter­gov­ern­men­tal organization.

The IOC was estab­lished in 1959 under the aus­pices of the United Nations and is cur­rently com­posed of 17 mem­ber nations as well as the European Union.

I insist that the most impor­tant thing is the qual­ity of olive oil.- Abdellatif Ghedira, exec­u­tive direc­tor of the IOC

Abdellatif Ghedira, the exec­u­tive direc­tor of the IOC, told Olive Oil Times about the IOC’s long-term vision of sus­tain­abil­ity and touched upon some of the olive-grow­ing world’s biggest chal­lenges, includ­ing cli­mate change.

Ghedira acknowl­edged that, over the last decade, pro­ducer coun­tries have suf­fered dif­fi­cult sea­sons char­ac­ter­ized by extreme weather conditions.

See Also: IOC News

In an Olive Oil Times sur­vey, grow­ers from around the world said irreg­u­lar weather pat­terns caused them trou­ble dur­ing this year’s harvest.

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Climate change is already hav­ing an impact on world pro­duc­tion, lead­ing to major fluc­tu­a­tions which play a big fac­tor on the price of oil,” Ghedira said. As I have said on sev­eral occa­sions, you begin to see the effects on the olive tree, a plant that is nor­mally very resistant.”

However, Ghedira also touted the olive tree as a plant that may help mit­i­gate some of the effects of cli­mate change, includ­ing seques­ter­ing car­bon diox­ide as well as pre­vent­ing ero­sion and desertification.

We have cal­cu­lated that pro­duc­ing one kilo­gram (2.2 pounds) of olive oil absorbs the equiv­a­lent amount of car­bon diox­ide emis­sions of a car con­sum­ing 10 liters (2.6 gal­lons) of fuel,” he said. This means that every olive tree helps limit the neg­a­tive effects of cli­mate change, by absorb­ing more atmos­pheric car­bon diox­ide than it produces.”

Through large-scale coop­er­a­tion, Ghedira and Jaime Lillo, the deputy direc­tor of the IOC, see olive cul­ti­va­tion and oil pro­duc­tion not only as an envi­ron­men­tally sus­tain­able indus­try, but one that can be eco­nom­i­cally and socially sus­tain­able as well.

The olive tree is a sus­tain­able crop, which has a dimen­sion of social sus­tain­abil­ity, and forms the basis of the econ­omy of sev­eral coun­tries,” Lillo told Olive Oil Times. We are also work­ing on how to use the byprod­ucts gen­er­ated by the olive oil extrac­tion, and there­fore we pro­mote the use of resources and the cre­ation of con­struc­tive rela­tion­ships, toward a cir­cu­lar and green economy.”

In order to cre­ate a sus­tain­able cir­cu­lar econ­omy, the IOC needs buy in from all major olive grow­ing and oil pro­duc­ing nations, Ghedira said. It is this need for global coop­er­a­tion, which is why the orga­ni­za­tion is open to re-admit­ting pariah states, such as Syria.

The IOC is a tech­ni­cal orga­ni­za­tion, with no polit­i­cal over­tones,” Ghedira said. We think that all coun­tries that pro­duce and con­sume olive oil should be mem­bers of our orga­ni­za­tion. We need them and their farm­ers, just like they need us, because we can ben­e­fit from each other’s knowl­edge and hold an exchange of views.”

Syria should apply, as it is an impor­tant pro­ducer which pre­vi­ously pro­duced six per­cent of world out­put,” he added. They asked to join us, and, as we said in Argentina, they are wel­come. Yet, since they have left the IOC and have a finan­cial debt to the orga­ni­za­tion, we are dis­cussing how they can pay it, in order to present their dossier to the IOC.”

Ghedira also wel­comed the increased involve­ment of tra­di­tion­ally less active IOC mem­bers, such as Libya.

Libya is a found­ing mem­ber of the IOC, and one of the first coun­tries to believe in this orga­ni­za­tion,” he said. Economic devel­op­ment is essen­tial for it in order to reach eco­nomic and, there­fore, over­all sta­bil­ity. For Libya, the olive sec­tor could be an impor­tant part of this ben­e­fi­cial process.”

Ghedira also pointed out that olives and olive oil have deep cul­tural roots in the North African nation and this cul­tural her­itage com­bined with improved olive oil pro­duc­tion and analy­sis tech­niques could help boost the country’s inter­na­tional olive oil profile.

As Libya asked us to become an active mem­ber, we sent experts on the ground, who explained that the key to the devel­op­ment of the olive oil sec­tor is the cre­ation of lab­o­ra­to­ries to ana­lyze the qual­ity of oils,” he said.

They have agreed and are work­ing on this in order to improve the qual­ity of their pro­duc­tion,” Ghedira added. I am glad about that, because I think that pro­duc­ing table olives and olive oil is not only a mat­ter of eco­nomic power but also a mat­ter of love, knowl­edge and field work.”

Ghedira went on to com­mend the grow­ing num­ber of coun­tries that are express­ing inter­est in olive oil and table olive pro­duc­tion. He said that it is encour­ag­ing to see coun­tries, such as Namibia, China, Japan, Palestine, New Zealand and Saudi Arabia express inter­est in join­ing the IOC.

He specif­i­cally praised Iran, Georgia and Albania, all of which are in the process of acces­sion to the inter­gov­ern­men­tal organization.

We are glad that these coun­tries want to join us, as they also believe in the sense of togeth­er­ness of olive oil, when it comes to talk about qual­ity and find solu­tions to prob­lems,” Ghedira said. Considering that 95 per­cent of the world pro­duc­tion is made by our mem­bers, and 75 per­cent of con­sumers come from our mem­ber coun­tries, we can say that the IOC truly rep­re­sents the world olive oil.”

However, cel­e­brat­ing the IOC’s six­ti­eth anniver­sary was not just a moment to look back at how far the orga­ni­za­tion has come, but to also look ahead at the chal­lenges it, and global olive oil pro­duc­ers, are facing.

Olive oil rep­re­sents barely three per­cent of the fat con­sumed in the world, it is a lit­tle gem,” Ghedira said. For this rea­son all those who make it with­out pay­ing atten­tion to qual­ity hurt the indus­try, all those who fail to make a good olive oil dam­age the sector.”

Now, our role is to encour­age the cre­ation of lab­o­ra­to­ries to adapt to inter­na­tional stan­dards and increase qual­ity, and we are glad to see that all the coun­tries are work­ing on that, by set­ting up more labs aimed at qual­ity,” he added.

Improving qual­ity was a con­sis­tent theme through­out Ghedira’s con­ver­sa­tion with Olive Oil Times. For him, this empha­sis on qual­ity is not only prac­ti­cal, but also hits close to home and his own expe­ri­ences with olive oil.

I was born a farmer, and I would like to share with you some­thing that you well know: the plea­sure of see­ing a farmer who lets you taste his olive oil and eagerly waits for you to tell him what you think, because that is the result of very hard work,” he said. The impor­tant thing is the love for the product.”

I insist that we should not con­fuse olive oil with the other oils: those who con­sume qual­ity olive oil or encour­age the con­sump­tion of qual­ity olive oil help the Earth fight the cli­mate change,” he added. And I insist that the most impor­tant thing is the qual­ity of olive oil.”

Lillo, the deputy direc­tor, widely agreed with Ghedira. He believes that the IOC up until this point has been suc­cess­ful in ful­fill­ing all of these roles within the inter­na­tional olive oil com­mu­nity. He said that the best way for the IOC to look ahead to the next 60 years is to con­tinue with this work.

We spread the best prac­tices to help farm­ers to have the best olive oils, improv­ing the sus­tain­abil­ity of pro­duc­tion, and we think this is the only and best way to look to the future,” he said.


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