Asia

Iran’s Olive Oil Sector Growing Despite Setbacks

Iran had a record-breaking year in terms of its olive oil production. However, poor government planning and corruption are thwarting the sector’s full potential.

Feb. 18, 2019
By Daniel Dawson

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Iran is esti­mated to have pro­duced a record 9,000 tons of olive oil during the 2018/19 har­vest year, accord­ing to fig­ures from the International Olive Council (IOC).

Jalal Goglani, a researcher and former advi­sor to Iran’s Ministry of Agriculture, told Olive Oil Times that this figure will likely be revised down to 7,000 or 7,500 tons, which would still be a record yield.

The most dif­fi­cult prob­lem for grow­ers is the lack of gov­ern­ment sup­port because they are con­sid­er­ing their own inter­ests- Jalal Goglani, former advi­sor to Iran’s Ministry of Agriculture

Iran’s agro-econ­omy is cen­trally planned, so the country’s output of olive oil largely depends on the prices of green olives. When their price is better, olives are siphoned away from oil pro­duc­tion in favor of can­ning.

“Most olive trees in Iran are dual pur­pose,” Goglani said. “The pro­duc­tion of olive oil depends on the price of green olives. If the price of canned olives is higher, the [olives would be used for this instead].”

See more: Olive Oil News from Asia

Working under a cen­trally planned econ­omy also means that olive grow­ers’ needs are rarely con­sid­ered and the gov­ern­ment mainly works toward goals that are in its own inter­est. Olives and olive oil are occa­sion­ally used by the gov­ern­ment as strate­gic imports in order to sup­port regional allies.

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“The most dif­fi­cult prob­lem for grow­ers is the lack of gov­ern­ment sup­port because they are con­sid­er­ing their own inter­ests,” Goglani said. “Only what is impor­tant for Iranian gov­ern­ment offi­cials is what is nation­ally pro­duced.”

In spite of ever shift­ing goals, there has been a push to grow the sector, which could lead Iran to becom­ing self-suf­fi­cient and pos­si­bly even export­ing olive oil in the future. Last year, Iranians con­sumed 12,000 tons of olive oil, of which 3,000 tons were imported.

Part of the drive to reach this level of self-suf­fi­ciency could come in the form of cul­ti­vat­ing more of Iran’s native olive vari­eties, which differ greatly from those of Mediterranean origin. Dakal, Fishomi, Gelooleh, Rowghani and Zard are the most preva­lent native cul­ti­vars in Iran.

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“These species are not genet­i­cally derived from Mediterranean cul­ti­vars and, accord­ing to Italian researchers at the Perugia Genetics Research Center, are truly genetic resources that can create the fields of new cul­ti­vars,” Goglani said.

He believes that intro­duc­ing traits from these species into the Mediterranean gene pool could lead to olives that are more resis­tant to cold snaps, among other things, a phe­nom­e­non that dam­aged olive crops in Italy, Greece and California this year.

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“These rare eco­types are effec­tive in pro­duc­ing resis­tant cul­ti­vars to adverse envi­ron­men­tal fac­tors, such as dry­ness, salin­ity, cold and heat,” Goglani said.

Iran cur­rently has about 297,000 acres of olive trees planted, most of which are Arbequina and Koroneiki. There are plans to expand this acreage to 1.2 mil­lion. Along with cre­at­ing jobs in more rural regions of the coun­try, this effort would also help to mit­i­gate the effects of deser­ti­fi­ca­tion and ero­sion.

However, mis­man­age­ment and cor­rup­tion in the sector have led to the fail­ure of pre­vi­ous expan­sion plans and caused a lot of damage to olive grow­ers and oil pro­duc­ers.

“Imported for­eign seedlings have caused the trans­mis­sion of ill­nesses [in the coun­try],” Goglani said. “Because of these mis­takes, [almost 250,000 acres] of olive groves in the coun­try were only 40 per­cent pro­duc­tive.”

Iran has also recently suf­fered olive tree damage from frost, drought and the olive fly.

As long as there is erratic weather cou­pled with ulte­rior motives within the sector, events such as this one are almost cer­tain to con­tinue, Goglani believes.

But, there is some hope. Last October Iran rat­i­fied the 2015 International Agreement on Olive Oil and Table Olives at the United Nations’ head­quar­ters in New York. This meant that Iran implic­itly agreed to act with more trans­parency regard­ing its olive oil sector.

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“Membership in the coun­cil has a good effect in terms of trans­fer­ring tech­ni­cal knowl­edge to the Iranian olive indus­try, because tech­ni­cal knowl­edge is indis­pens­able for pro­duc­tion, although gov­ern­ment offi­cials unfor­tu­nately do not pay much atten­tion to this,” Goglani said.




  • International Olive Council