Andalusian Officials Withdraw Sea of Olives Candidacy for UNESCO Recognition

The move came after 8,500 olive growers signed a petition protesting the candidacy. However, some are hopeful the decision will be overturned.

Olive grove landscapes of Andalusia
By Paolo DeAndreis
May. 10, 2024 16:49 UTC
Olive grove landscapes of Andalusia

With two months until the 46th ses­sion of the UNESCO World Heritage Committee in India, Spanish rep­re­sen­ta­tives have voted to with­draw the can­di­dacy of the Olive Grove Landscapes of Andalusia.

This deci­sion to remove the iconic 1.5 mil­lion hectare land­scape, also known as Mar de Olivos, or Sea of Olives, from con­tention to enter the UNESCO World Heritage Sites list fol­lowed a peti­tion signed by about 8,500 olive grow­ers in Jaén.

Subsequently, the Commission of the Olive Grove Landscapes in Andalusia, com­pris­ing local insti­tu­tions and other stake­hold­ers, offi­cially dropped the can­di­dacy first pre­sented nearly a decade ago.

See Also:Traditional Turkish Olive Cultivation Practices Recognized by UNESCO

We can­not pro­ceed against the farm­ers’ wishes,” said Francisco Reyes, pres­i­dent of the province of Jaén and chair of the com­mis­sion.

Local uni­ver­si­ties and foun­da­tions, in col­lab­o­ra­tion with agri­cul­tural unions and the provin­cial gov­ern­ments of Jaén, Córdoba, Sevilla and Málaga, have been work­ing on the nom­i­na­tion since 2016.

If approved, the Sea of Olives would have become Andalusia’s ninth and Spain’s 50th world her­itage site. Only Italy and China are home to more sites.

However, many farm­ers opposed the can­di­dacy, con­cerned that UNESCO sta­tus would bur­den them with addi­tional reg­u­la­tions and hin­der their busi­ness prof­itabil­ity.

Asaja Córdoba, a farm­ers’ union, and other regional coop­er­a­tives cel­e­brated the deci­sion to with­draw the can­di­dacy.

Our pre­vi­ous expe­ri­ence from sim­i­lar sit­u­a­tions indi­cated that [the UNESCO list­ing] would end up weigh­ing on the farm­ers,” Ignacio Fernández de Mesa, the association’s pres­i­dent, told Olive Oil Times. Given the cur­rent reg­u­la­tions from the E.U.‘s Common Agricultural Policy and other sec­tor-spe­cific laws, there is no need for addi­tional pro­tec­tions or lim­i­ta­tions.”

The pro­posal would unnec­es­sar­ily freeze our agri­cul­tural prac­tices, com­pli­cat­ing any agro­nomic adap­ta­tions needed due to glob­al­iza­tion,” he added. We see no ben­e­fit in the UNESCO list­ing, lead­ing us to reject this ini­tia­tive com­pletely.”

Previously, a spokesper­son for Spain’s Ministry of Culture and Sport dis­puted these kinds of claims and told Olive Oil Times that other UNESCO World Heritage sites, such as France’s Champagne region and Italy’s Prosecco region, still have func­tion­ing vine­yards, where pro­duc­ers prof­itably meet the UNESCO cri­te­ria while mak­ing wine.

However, Asaja Córdoba coun­tered that UNESCO recog­ni­tion is unnec­es­sary for Spaniards and the rest of the world to appre­ci­ate the work done over decades by local grow­ers.

The asso­ci­a­tion reports that the olive groves are in excel­lent con­di­tion, with thriv­ing bio­di­ver­sity. Their enor­mous efforts are aimed at main­tain­ing a mag­nif­i­cent state of con­ser­va­tion for their areas,” Fernández de Mesa said.

He added, This has been achieved over the years thanks to the good prac­tices of farm­ers, live­stock breed­ers, foresters and rural landown­ers.”

Despite the lat­est deci­sion, many advo­cate for the can­di­da­cy’s revival, includ­ing Luis Planas, Spain’s min­is­ter of agri­cul­ture, fish­eries and food, who said the with­drawal would be tem­po­rary.”

I hope we can put [the pro­posal] back on the table as it would be a sig­nif­i­cant achieve­ment for the whole [olive] sec­tor while also a token of the unique appeal of our ter­ri­tory,” said Planas while not­ing that the pro­jec­t’s respon­si­bil­ity is entirely in the hands of its pro­mot­ers.

The University of Jaén, which has worked closely with the pro­mot­ers of the can­di­dacy, asked farm­ers not to miss out on an oppor­tu­nity for the province Jaén and the whole of Andalusia.”

We do not con­sider the mat­ter closed,” said Nicolás Ruiz Reyes, the university’s rec­tor. On the con­trary, we are open to resum­ing it as soon as favor­able cir­cum­stances arise.”

One of the first reac­tions to the with­drawal came from Cristóbal Cano, sec­re­tary gen­eral of the Union of Small Farmers and Ranchers (UPA) in Jaén.

Cano crit­i­cized mis­in­for­ma­tion, dis­loy­alty within the sec­tor, and polit­i­cal inter­fer­ence” for the can­di­da­cy’s fail­ure. Referring to the commission’s vote, he noted that this is a deci­sion we’ll regret.”

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