in-jaen-conquering-palates-to-get-a-fair-price-for-olive-oil-francisco-reyes-martinez

The more cuisines olive oil con­quers in the world, the eas­ier it will be to obtain a fair price for this prod­uct. — Francisco Reyes Martinez

Admired for its pro­duc­tion poten­tial, ques­tions have also been tra­di­tion­ally raised about the qual­ity of the Jaén region’s oils. This rep­u­ta­tion, which was per­haps deserved in the past, is com­pletely unjus­ti­fied nowa­days.

Proof of this lies in the grow­ing num­ber of awards which, year after year, all over the world, dis­tin­guish the excel­lence of its brands.

The enor­mous efforts made by its olive and oil pro­duc­ing indus­try in recent years have con­tributed to this suc­cess, rais­ing qual­ity to the max­i­mum, as has the drive pro­vided by the Jaén County Council.

Since his elec­tion as pres­i­dent of the Jaén County Council in June of 2011, we had only coin­cided with him at a small num­ber of events.

We were per­fectly famil­iar with the vehe­mence of Felipe López, his pre­de­ces­sor in the posi­tion, in defend­ing the inter­ests of the olive tree and the oil from his land. However, we hadn’t had a chance for a good chat with Francisco Reyes yet. And so, with the excuse of the mis­for­tu­nate leg­is­la­tion the EU was sup­posed to set in motion in January 2014, to oblige the HORECA chan­nel to replace the tra­di­tional oil cruets with non-refill­able and labelled pack­ages, we decided to inter­view him.

Just like the rest of us, in the course of his life Francisco Reyes has also come across the con­tro­ver­sial oil cruets in numer­ous bars and restau­rants through­out our coun­try. A prac­tice which, in his eyes, “under­mines the pres­tige of qual­ity oils by using recip­i­ents that do not do them jus­tice.”

This is why, even before the announce­ment of the new European mea­sure, the Jaén County Council had already spon­sored a cam­paign dri­ven by the small farm­ers asso­ci­a­tion, Unión de Pequeños Agricultores de Andalucía, among var­i­ous restau­rants in Jaén in an attempt to have them offer their oils solely in non-refill­able and labelled pack­ag­ings.

In a sur­pris­ing coin­ci­dence, just a few days after answer­ing our ques­tions, the European Union decided to block what, accord­ing to Francisco Reyes, would have been a response to a “series of requests and demands from the sec­tor which, undoubt­edly, would be pos­i­tive for the olive oil pro­duc­ers.”

We haven’t spo­ken to the pres­i­dent of the Jaén County Council again since the European Union made this deci­sion, how­ever some­thing tells us that he can’t be very happy about it.

It is no won­der that every­one iden­ti­fies Jaén with olive oil, as it is the main pro­duc­tion region not just in Spain but in the oil pro­duc­ing world. How is its rel­e­vance reflected in the char­ac­ter­is­tics that define the province?

The image of Jaén, which is redo­lent of olive oil, is largely asso­ci­ated with its olive groves. Suffice to jour­ney just a lit­tle into our ter­ri­tory to realise that the olive, that thou­sand-year old tree so closely asso­ci­ated with the Mediterranean, dom­i­nates prac­ti­cally the entire coun­try­side. Indeed, over 60 mil­lion olive trees define the coun­try­side and moun­tains of Jaén, from north to south and east to west of the province. Its omnipres­ence deter­mines our econ­omy, in which the olive sec­tor rep­re­sents over 15% of our Gross Domestic Product, we pro­duce 28% of the world’s olive oil and 43% of Spain’s. Data that trans­lates into returns of around 1 bil­lion euros. In our province, which has over 600,000 hectares of land planted with olives trees, around 108,000 peo­ple are directly linked to this sec­tor through the 66,000 reg­is­tered farms, on which an aver­age of 700,000 tonnes of olives are pro­duced, which are pressed in over 300 mills. And the pre­dom­i­nant vari­etal is the Picual, rep­re­sent­ing 95% of the total. From this olive, one of the best oils in the world is extracted, both in terms of flavour and in health ben­e­fits, as it is one of the oils with the high­est oleic acid con­tent.

In the light of these fig­ures, it is log­i­cal to assume that olive oil exerts an enor­mous influ­ence on the every­day life of the peo­ple from Jaén. How does it specif­i­cally impact the social and cul­tural envi­ron­ment of the province?

That’s cer­tainly true, par­tic­u­larly in the small and medium-sized towns and vil­lages, which con­sti­tute a major­ity in the province of Jaén. Here, the agri­cul­tural labour, the har­vest and the cul­ti­va­tion of this tree mark the lives of its inhab­i­tants. Although in recent years, a suc­cess­ful attempt has been made to diver­sify the pro­duc­tive activ­ity in Jaén, there is no doubt that oil pro­duc­tion is still one of our most rel­e­vant sec­tors, not just from an eco­nomic point of view, but also in terms of cul­ture as, per se, it is a way of life with roots that date far back in time, which we have sum­marised in the term Olive Culture.

Has the cur­rent eco­nomic sit­u­a­tion affected the olive oil indus­try in Jaén? In what way?

There is no ques­tion that the dif­fi­cul­ties Spanish soci­ety is expe­ri­enc­ing mean that all sec­tors, includ­ing olive oil, are suf­fer­ing. But the small har­vest of the last year has tem­porar­ily over­shad­owed the main prob­lem we have been fac­ing recently: the low prices that even fall below the prof­itabil­ity thresh­old. Since there is a smaller sup­ply, the price has increased, but this year’s cam­paign will be less prof­itable for the oil pro­duc­ers and, above all, has led to the loss of over 6 mil­lion days of work, mean­ing this is a par­tic­u­larly tough sit­u­a­tion for the thou­sands of Jaén fam­i­lies whose income depends directly on agri­cul­ture and for whom we at the Council have set up an Employment Plan with a bud­get of 7 mil­lion euro to par­tially relieve this loss of wages.

From a purely phys­i­cal plane, which pecu­liar­i­ties make up the Jaén olive land­scape?

Like I said before, the olive grove is present wher­ever you look in this province, to the extent that we always say it’s our fifth nature reserve. It is a human­ized wood that is one-of-a-kind in the world, offer­ing unique land­scapes and orog­ra­phy, marked by end­less rows of olive trees that spread through­out the plains, the moun­tains, close to the vil­lages, the cities and even the most remote and hid­den nooks and cran­nies.

Some claim that the tra­di­tional olive groves, par­tic­u­larly those blan­ket­ing the moun­tain slopes, are not very prof­itable or com­pet­i­tive if com­pared to those cul­ti­vated inten­sively or super-inten­sively. Do you share this opin­ion?

I think that rather than an opin­ion, this is a real­ity. The dif­fi­cul­ties involved in har­vest­ing these moun­tain­ous groves, or installing a water­ing sys­tem or sim­ply doing the var­i­ous agri­cul­tural tasks nec­es­sary, con­sti­tute an obsta­cle that ulti­mately affects the profit the farmer extracts from the olive tree in com­par­i­son to the flat stretches of farm­land in which cul­ti­va­tion can be more inten­sive. This is why it is obvi­ous that they are less prof­itable, but that should not make us for­get the impor­tant social and eco­nomic func­tion they ful­fil in many of our munic­i­pal­i­ties, where they rep­re­sent one of the main sources of income, which is why we always defend the need to pre­serve this moun­tain grove, because it con­tributes to main­tain­ing the pop­u­la­tion in rural areas and because it is also impor­tant in terms of the envi­ron­men­tal ben­e­fits it gen­er­ates.

A leader in terms of quan­tity, the province of Jaén also stands out for the increas­ingly-higher qual­ity of its oils. What char­ac­ter­is­tics define them? How is the excel­lence of these oils cer­ti­fied?

In Jaén, as I men­tioned before, the Picual olive is the most com­monly cul­ti­vated as it takes up approx­i­mately 95% of the olive-pro­duc­ing sur­face area, although in the area of Cazorla, the Royal vari­etal is also com­mon. Its main char­ac­ter­is­tics reside in its aroma, which tends to be described as fruity, fresh and fra­grant, while a slight bit­ter­ness pre­dom­i­nates its flavour, with an intense taste of the actual olive itself, that leaves an exquis­ite and pro­longed after­taste. It is the olive type that is most resis­tant to oxi­da­tion, due to its higher polyphe­nol con­tent. This guar­an­tees its sta­bil­ity and preser­va­tion for a long period of time, one of the most impor­tant advan­tages of the Picual vari­etal, with­out neglect­ing the stronger pres­ence of the healthy oleic acid. To guar­an­tee its excel­lent qual­ity, we boast some of the old­est Designations of Origin in Spain, the Sierra de Segura and also the Sierra de Cazorla. The Council works with these to raise aware­ness of the excel­lent oils pro­duced in the province of Jaén.

Jaén is known as a major pro­ducer of bulk oils. What per­cent­age of the total pro­duc­tion is made for this mar­ket? What types of oils are sold in this way? What is the cur­rent trend?

The esti­mates indi­cate that around 80% of the oil pro­duced is sold in bulk, mainly to the export mar­ket. In gen­eral, the olive oils exported tend to be the lower qual­ity oils because nor­mally a far higher per­cent­age of extra vir­gin olive oils are pack­aged. The cur­rent, and also desir­able, trend is for the oils pro­duced to be of an increas­ingly high qual­ity, and for both the pack­ag­ing and the sale to take place directly at ori­gin, because this will gen­er­ate more added value, a higher profit for the pro­duc­ers and, as a result of this, more jobs will be cre­ated in the sec­tor. For this to hap­pen, it is also essen­tial for us to con­tinue to pro­mote this prod­uct through­out the world, empha­sis­ing the ben­e­fits it offers to human health and its mul­ti­ple uses in gas­tron­omy, because the more palates we con­quer, the eas­ier it will be to receive a fair price for the oil that should at the very least cover the farm­ers’ pro­duc­tion costs.

You are a teacher by pro­fes­sion and so you must at some point, even if only in your own mind, have assessed the knowl­edge level of the chil­dren –and those who are not so much chil­dren- from your province about olive oil. In your opin­ion, what is their view of this prod­uct so inher­ent to them? Is this vision real?

In the province of Jaén at least, the olive oil knowl­edge level is more com­plete than in other areas of Spain. Even so, and in gen­eral terms, I believe the term used to define the qual­ity of the oils makes it overly dif­fi­cult to dis­tin­guish between the best and the not so good. Olive oil is con­sid­ered a top qual­ity prod­uct, with infi­nite uses in the kitchen, an excel­lent flavour and it is more and more acknowl­edged as a healthy and essen­tial food­stuff of the Mediterranean Diet. This is made increas­ingly clear by the grow­ing num­ber of sci­en­tific stud­ies, the lat­est of which, called Predimed, clearly shows that this type of diet, sup­ple­mented with olive oil, reduces the chance of suf­fer­ing a car­dio­vas­cu­lar dis­ease by 30%. This is the view of olive oil that we at the Council are intent on pro­mot­ing among var­i­ous groups, such as house­wives, school chil­dren, restau­ra­teurs, dis­trib­u­tors … all with a view to con­quer­ing more and more cuisines around the world.


Up close and per­sonal:

An extra vir­gin: Oro de Cánava
An olive vari­etal: Picual
An olive grove land­scape: The val­ley of the river Cuadros and the moun­tains of Sierra Mágina.
A restau­rant that takes spe­cial inter­est in olive oil: Juanito, in Baeza.
A dish with olive oil: French fries with eggs.
A wish for olive oil: For the pro­duc­ers to receive a fair price.


Francisco Reyes Martínez

Born in the Jaén town of Bedmar, on July 10 in 1962. Although a teacher by pro­fes­sion, pol­i­tics began to make a deci­sive mark on his life in 1987, the year in which he was elected coun­cilor in his native munic­i­pal­ity. One year later, he became mayor, a posi­tion he held until 1995.

Between 1993 and 2000, he was also regional coun­cilor, a posi­tion he com­bined with that of vice-pres­i­dent of this same insti­tu­tion for a while, and was also respon­si­ble for local Tourism and Development.

Almost at the same time, in 1996 he went on to take up the role of organ­i­sa­tion sec­re­tary of the Provincial Government of the PSOE party in Jaén. For another four years, he also com­bined this func­tion with that of sec­re­tary gen­eral of the Local Branch of this polit­i­cal party in Bedmar.

In the year 2000, he was appointed regional rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the Andalusian gov­ern­ment in Jaén, a posi­tion he occu­pied until the year 2008, when he was elected national coun­cilor.

In 2004, he began his role as vice sec­re­tary gen­eral of the PSOE in Jaén, until he gave up this facet to become sec­re­tary gen­eral of his polit­i­cal party in Jaén. At present, he com­bines this posi­tion with that of PSOE rep­re­sen­ta­tive for the legal juris­dic­tion of Jaén.

Since June 24 2011, Francisco Reyes Martínez has also been the pres­i­dent of the Jaén County Council.

Olivarama arti­cles are pre­sented in their entirety and are unedited by Olive Oil Times.


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