Farmers and Officials in Jordan Work to Protect Millennial Olive Trees

Although they have lived through war, famine and plagues, Jordan's ancient olive trees are now threatened by luxury hotels and affluent collectors.
The Ritz Carlton, Amman
By Ofeoritse Daibo
Jan. 2, 2024 23:53 UTC

Revered as national trea­sures, Jordan’s olive trees are being threat­ened by cli­mate change and defor­esta­tion by devel­op­ers enam­ored by their his­tory and beauty.

Growing demand for unique gar­den orna­ments has led to the trees being uprooted and sold to for­eign­ers world­wide and high-end hotels. Efforts are under­way to save and pro­tect them.

Farmers are basi­cally pre­serv­ing our cul­ture in a bot­tle. They are begin­ning to take care of these ancient trees, and with greater aware­ness, and have also made a point to dif­fer­en­ti­ate them from reg­u­lar olive oils.- Nehaya Al-Muhaisen, founder, Arab Olive Oil Women’s Network

Some of these trees date back 5,000 years, mak­ing them liv­ing mon­u­ments,” said Nehaya Al-Muhaisen, for­mer direc­tor of the olive direc­torate at the Ministry of Agriculture and founder of the Arab Olive Oil Women’s Network.

Since our ancient trees are sen­si­tive to relo­ca­tion, new gov­ern­ment leg­is­la­tion lim­its trans­porta­tion and removal of them,” she told Olive Oil Times. The Ministry of Interior, together with the police, are work­ing to pre­vent trans­port oper­a­tions, except in very excep­tional cases.”

See Also:Celebrating South America’s Historic Olive Trees

Jordan’s Ministry of Culture fur­ther aims to add the coun­try’s olive trees to the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage List. The hope is that the recog­ni­tion will fur­ther pro­tect them. The gov­ern­ment is also devel­op­ing a plan to engage pub­lic involve­ment through QR codes placed on locally-pro­duced olive oils.

At first, researchers thought our olive trees were planted dur­ing the Roman empire, around 2,000 years ago, but found that they were cul­ti­vated way before then,” Al-Muhaisen said. They were cul­ti­vated thou­sands of years ago and belong to the legacy of Greater Syria. As a result, they are rare and lucra­tive to sell.”

Greater Syria (Bilad al-Sham), which spans the mod­ern coun­tries of Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Jordan and Palestine, as well as some parts of Turkey, is the birth­place of the olive tree. The ear­li­est vari­ety is known as Mehras, accord­ing to the Mehras Cooperative Society.

Al-Muhaisen noted that the Ministry of Agriculture has spread aware­ness of the eco­nomic value of the old­est trees. As a result, their own­ers have a desire to keep them and ben­e­fit from them.”

In the past, these ancient trees were just seen as reg­u­lar olive trees, but today, they have a spe­cial pro­tected sta­tus,” she said. They have become the sym­bol of the grand­mother, and you take care of your grand­mother.”

This changed men­tal­ity has prompted pro­duc­ers to repack­age olive oil from mil­len­nial trees into bot­tles with unique designs. Farmers are basi­cally pre­serv­ing our cul­ture in a bot­tle,” Al-Muhaisen said.

They are begin­ning to take care of these ancient trees, and with greater aware­ness, and have also made a point to dif­fer­en­ti­ate them from reg­u­lar olive oils at trade shows and spe­cial exhi­bi­tions,” she added.

In Jordan, high olive oil prices are attrib­uted to ris­ing pro­duc­tion costs, espe­cially for labor.

On aver­age, olive oil costs approx­i­mately 6 Jordanian dinars (€7.68) per liter, while a bot­tle of olive oil from the coun­try’s his­toric trees can run 15 to 20 Jordanian dinars (€19.19 to €25.58) per liter, accord­ing to Al-Muhaisen.

Despite higher prices, demand is ris­ing. These ancient olive oils have a unique taste,” Al-Muhaisen said. They also rep­re­sent high qual­ity and a rich his­tory. So, the mar­gins are jus­ti­fied. Because of its his­tor­i­cal value, prices could rise to 50 Jordanian dinars (€63.96) per liter.”

Experts pre­dict that Jordanian olive oil pro­duc­tion will rise 30 per­cent this year. We expect about 33,000 tons, with 20 per­cent from ancient trees,” Al-Muhaisen said. The num­ber of fruit­ful olive trees is esti­mated at approx­i­mately 12 mil­lion, of which about 20 per­cent or so are the ancient trees,” she added.

Approximately 200,000 peo­ple are involved in the olive har­vest sea­son. The Jordanian olive sec­tor is one of the most impor­tant agri­cul­tural eco­nomic sec­tors, as it con­tributes effec­tively to the GDP, with an invest­ment vol­ume of more than one bil­lion Jordanian dinars (€1.28 bil­lion),” Al-Muhaisen said. It pro­vides a source of income for more than 80,000 Jordanian rural fam­i­lies.”


In my wom­en’s net­work, women from olive oil fam­i­lies have started to change the pro­duc­tion and stor­age of spe­cific vari­eties, includ­ing the ancient vari­eties,” she added. The work­shops we orga­nize reflect on the new gen­er­a­tion of olive oil pro­duc­ers.”

Climate change chal­lenges the sec­tor, includ­ing the secu­rity of ancient trees. The heat­waves have increased the use of fer­til­iz­ers and forced farm­ers to resort to sup­ple­men­tary irri­ga­tion to sus­tain pro­duc­tiv­ity.

Increasing the estab­lish­ment of water har­vest­ing pits capa­ble of absorb­ing rain and flash floods could reduce their dan­ger,” Al-Muhaisen said.

It is also pos­si­ble to cul­ti­vate dif­fer­ent vari­eties that are more resis­tant to cli­mate change con­di­tions in Jordan,” she added. The Mehras vari­ety, for instance, which falls under the ancient vari­eties, is one of the most resis­tant.”


Related Articles