Low Algerian Olive Oil Exports Blamed on 'Persistent Social Hurdles'

The region of Kabylia produces around nine million liters of olive oil annually but has struggled to export its oil because of deeply-rooted social hurdles.

Kabylia, Algeria
Dec. 8, 2016
By Reda Atoui
Kabylia, Algeria

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The region of Kabylia, located in the north of Algeria, pro­duces around nine mil­lion liters (around 7,000 tons) of olive oil annu­ally. Despite the abun­dance of that nat­ural wealth the region has strug­gled to export its oil because of deeply-rooted social sys­tem that is hard to work with, even for local offi­cial author­i­ties.

Olive oil trees grow nat­u­rally in Kabylia and demand min­i­mal care. Normally, that would mean olive oil expor­ta­tion oppor­tu­ni­ties are rife, yet Kabylia remains anchored in old-fash­ioned busi­ness prac­tices pre­vent­ing it from doing so.

In Kabylia, each fam­ily pos­sesses its own olive par­cel, which is usu­ally no more than a few dozen olive trees. Each gen­er­a­tion of grow­ers trans­mits its par­cel to the next one, and so on. An over­whelm­ing major­ity of Kabylians are vis­cer­ally attached to their parcels and con­sider con­sum­ing one’s own olive oil to be bet­ter than sell­ing it.

At best, they sell it through old-fash­ioned chan­nels and acquain­tances. That kind of rudi­men­tary com­mer­cial trans­ac­tion has severely impacted Kabylia’s cap­i­tal­iz­ing on lucra­tive for­eign mar­kets and gov­ern­men­tal insti­tu­tions have yet to come up with appro­pri­ate solu­tions.

Indeed, for­eign part­ners have a hard time import­ing olive oil from Kabylia. Kamel Boudjadi, a jour­nal­ist for Algerian news­pa­per L’Expression who has cov­ered Kabylia’s olive oil mar­ket trends, has fol­lowed the path of a young man resid­ing in France who wished to import olive oil from Kabylia.

(Editor’s note: The Algerian news­pa­per L’Expression stated that Algeria’s pro­duc­tion of nine mil­lion liters was roughly equiv­a­lent to the pro­duc­tion of coun­tries like Tunisia and Spain,” but it is, in fact, a tiny frac­tion of the out­put of either).

The man cre­ated a com­pany and was look­ing to import Algerian olive oil in order to sell it on the French mar­ket which is an impor­tant seg­ment of the large Algerian dias­pora. That plan did not go as planned as he strug­gled to obtain the quan­tity he desired because of the way Kabylian grow­ers do busi­ness.

Firstly, many local grow­ers out­right refused to sell him olive oil. Moreover, deal­ing with the ones who actu­ally were will­ing was a dif­fi­cult task as it required buy­ing from hun­dreds of house­holds to gen­er­ate sig­nif­i­cant vol­ume, which proved to be a busi­ness night­mare. The young man even­tu­ally quit the import busi­ness, dis­cour­aged.

Algerian author­i­ties are aware of Kabylia’s lim­i­ta­tions but have had a hard time orga­niz­ing the local olive oil indus­try due to its immense frag­men­ta­tion. Doing so would very likely turn out to be a colos­sal task as it would require mak­ing thou­sands of house­holds adhere to the same pro­duc­tion and busi­ness stan­dards; gov­ern­ment offi­cials have tried doing so, but failed every time.

It has proven almost impos­si­ble for gov­ern­men­tal reg­u­lat­ing bod­ies to stan­dard­ize the Kabylian olive oil indus­try from the har­vest of olive trees to the expor­ta­tion of their oil. In such con­di­tions, yield­ing and sell­ing olive oil that meets san­i­tary and gus­ta­tory stan­dards to poten­tial for­eign busi­ness part­ners might remain an intri­cate chal­lenge for Kabylia in the years to come.



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