COVID-19 Inflicts €2 Billion of Losses on Italian Olive Oil Sector

Italy’s major farmers association attributes the bulk of losses to the shutdown of the nation’s foodservice sector during the pandemic and a precipitous drop in tourism.
Jul. 13, 2020
Paolo DeAndreis

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The Ital­ian olive oil sec­tor has lost €2 bil­lion ($2.25 bil­lion) dur­ing the months of the COVID-19 lock­down, accord­ing to the Ital­ian farm­ers’ asso­ci­a­tion, Coldiretti.

The group recently pub­lished its fig­ures detail­ing the eco­nomic fall­out from the pan­demic, which has hit tens of thou­sands of small and large olive oil pro­duc­ers across the coun­try.

We need a rel­e­vant pub­lic com­mit­ment to restart exports, with an extra­or­di­nary com­mu­ni­ca­tion plan about olive oil. - Ettore Pran­dini, pres­i­dent, Coldiretti

Most of the eco­nomic dam­age is due to the coro­n­avirus con­tain­ment mea­sures, includ­ing the shut­down of the food ser­vices. How­ever, the sec­tor was also dev­as­tated by the falling olive oil prices and by the col­lapse of tourism — a sig­nif­i­cant sales chan­nel for medium and small pro­duc­ers in the coun­try.

Coldiretti also warned that these losses are likely to con­tinue as olive oil prices stay low and restau­rants, farm­houses and most other tourist venues strug­gle to return to nor­mal oper­a­tions, due to the reduced flow of vis­i­tors.

See more: COVID-19 Updates

In a note, Coldiretti warned of the mag­ni­tude of the eco­nomic con­trac­tion for a sec­tor in Italy that includes more than 400,000 ded­i­cated farms, which oper­ate with 533 olive vari­eties and 250 mil­lion olive trees to pro­duce the high­est num­ber of Pro­tected Des­ig­na­tion of Ori­gin and Pro­tected Geo­graph­i­cal Indi­ca­tion extra vir­gin olive oils in Europe.”


Given the num­bers involved, Coldiretti stressed, the con­se­quences could spread beyond the imme­di­ate bound­aries of the sec­tor. The asso­ci­a­tion argued that employ­ment fig­ures in related busi­nesses and long-term impacts on the envi­ron­ment were also a risk.

In Cal­abria alone, which is the sec­ond largest olive oil pro­duc­ing region in the coun­try, losses for the sec­tor and for busi­nesses related to olive oil pro­duc­tion and dis­tri­b­u­tion reached €400 mil­lion ($452 mil­lion).

With 470,000 acres of olive orchards, Cal­abria accounts for more than 30 per­cent of Italy’s olive oil yield. Olive oil pro­duc­tion also accounts for about 36 per­cent of the region’s total agri­cul­tural out­put.

Prices paid to pro­duc­ers have fallen 44 per­cent, num­bers that have not been recorded since 2014,” Coldiretti said. A phe­nom­e­non due to the pres­ence on the world mar­ket of abun­dant stocks of old Span­ish olive oil.”

Coldiretti argued that prices in Italy were falling as a result of Span­ish olive oil imports flood­ing the Ital­ian mar­ket. The asso­ci­a­tion added that much of the oil would be labeled as Ital­ian olive oil with no clear indi­ca­tion of its true ori­gin.

To counter the effects of this cur­rent cri­sis, Coldiretti has pro­posed a save the olives project” to national and local author­i­ties as well to those involved in olive oil pro­duc­tion and sales.

The project involves a series of mea­sures, such as a sim­pli­fied access to the already allo­cated funds for the mod­ern­iza­tion of the olive oil sec­tor or a flex­i­ble bureau­cracy to cer­tify the qual­ity of prod­ucts, includ­ing PDO and PGI, organic and SQNPI qual­ity.”

The SQNPI is a cer­ti­fi­ca­tion scheme meant to add value to agri­cul­tural prod­ucts by demon­strat­ing on their label that those prod­ucts have been pro­duced in com­pli­ance with local reg­u­la­tions.

Other pro­posed mea­sures include the pur­chase of extra vir­gin olive oil for the fam­i­lies in need and the manda­tory use of Ital­ian olive oils in pub­lic cafe­te­rias.

Coldiretti also asked for new funds for olive oil pro­duc­ers to com­pen­sate them for the drop in sales and spe­cific funds for the PDO and PGI-cer­ti­fied olive oil stocks that went unsold.

Coldiretti has also asked local and national author­i­ties to work together in order to bet­ter coor­di­nate olive oil exports.

We need a rel­e­vant pub­lic com­mit­ment to restart exports, with an extra­or­di­nary com­mu­ni­ca­tion plan about olive oil,” Ettore Pran­dini, the association’s pres­i­dent, said. This is even more needed now that Ital­ian olive oil exports could soon be hit by the new tar­iffs being con­sid­ered by United States Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump as a result of the con­tin­u­ing dis­pute with the Euro­pean Union about the aero­nau­ti­cal sec­tor.”

The Ital­ian Asso­ci­a­tion of the Olive Oil Indus­try (Assi­tol) has pre­vi­ously warned that these tar­iffs could cost the sec­tor $200 mil­lion per year.


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