Cultivating Olive Oil Culture Through the Recognition of Heritage Trees

By identifying centenary olive trees, the organizers of Sudoliva hope to promote olive oil culture in the Americas and help producers along the way.

The Albertico del Fundo Osmore tree in Peru’s Ilo Valley
Jan. 5, 2021
By Daniel Dawson
The Albertico del Fundo Osmore tree in Peru’s Ilo Valley

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Academics, pro­duc­ers and advo­cates of the olive oil sec­tor have come together in the Americas to help pre­serve the two con­ti­nents’ rich his­tory of olive cul­ti­va­tion and pro­mote its cul­tural impor­tance.

Three cen­te­nary olive trees were rec­og­nized at the first annual International Contest for the Enhancement of Heritage Olives in America, which was hosted vir­tu­ally by Sudoliva in mid-December.

The trees ful­fill a social, cul­tural and his­tor­i­cal func­tion.- Gianfranco Vargas, founder, Sudoliva

A 400-year-old Arauca tree in La Rioja, Argentina, another quadri­cen­ten­nial tree in Ilo, Peru and a much younger but no less sig­nif­i­cant cen­te­nary tree in Chimalhuacán, Mexico won the top hon­ors. In all, 24 trees from seven coun­tries were nom­i­nated.

We are doing this so we can iden­tify all the her­itage trees,” Gianfranco Vargas, the founder of Sudoliva, told Olive Oil Times. Not nec­es­sar­ily based on the fact that they are the old­est, but what the impor­tance, the her­itage, is for the whole of soci­ety — for its his­tory and cul­ture.”

See Also: Olive Oil Culture

While Vargas orig­i­nally founded Sudoliva three years ago as an olive oil qual­ity com­pe­ti­tion, the Peruvian researcher and pro­duc­tion con­sul­tant always sought to iden­tify and cel­e­brate her­itage olive trees.

We did the first con­test in Lima with the olive tree that San Martín de Porres planted [being rec­og­nized],” he said. At the fol­low­ing edi­tion of the con­test another cen­te­nary tree from Arica, Chile was awarded. In 2019, the Olivo de la Reina de La Frontera, located near Bagé, Rio Grande do Sul, was rec­og­nized.

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A heritage olive tree in Chimalhuacán, Mexico

However, just before the third edi­tion of the con­test could take place the Covid-19 pan­demic took hold across the Americas with dev­as­tat­ing con­se­quences. As a result, the qual­ity por­tion of the con­test was can­celed and Sudoliva quickly focussed its empha­sis on her­itage olive trees.

If the objec­tive is to value the olive trees rather than hold an olive oil con­test, the most impor­tant thing was to hold a con­test that helps us iden­tify all the her­itage olive trees in the Americas,” Vargas said.

Vargas and his col­leagues at Sudoliva see this new ver­sion of the con­test as a way to build an olive oil cul­ture in North and South America that is sim­i­lar to what one finds in south­ern Europe.

Identifying and rec­og­niz­ing these her­itage olive trees is the first step in this process. Once the trees have been iden­ti­fied, Vargas believes they can be used to pro­mote oleo­tur­ismo – olive oil tourism – and can add value to the oils pro­duced from their olives.

In other words, the trees ful­fill a social, cul­tural and his­tor­i­cal func­tion,” Vargas said.

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This 400-year-old tree in Ilo, Peru was among those recognized.

To illus­trate his point, Vargas points to the cen­te­nary tree in Chimalhuacán, a steadily grow­ing city just north­east of Mexico’s sprawl­ing cap­i­tal. The local author­i­ties there nom­i­nated the tree in the con­test in an effort to help pro­tect it.

They want to recover it because in this area there has been urban growth, but the trees have not been cut down,” Vargas said. The houses have been built and these neigh­bor­hoods, which are mar­ginal neigh­bor­hoods, have grown in the mid­dle of the olive trees.”

Many of these peo­ple who are of low eco­nomic resources har­vest these olive trees that are extremely large,” he added. They sell the olives and work in the grove.”

With this for­mal recog­ni­tion, Vargas believes the tree will cre­ate more value for the local com­mu­nity. Along with the other two win­ners and 21 con­tes­tants, the tree will soon be fea­tured on a new web­site and asso­ci­ated social media feeds.

In the case of Chimalhuacán, the award will also draw atten­tion to the city’s olive fes­ti­val.

There is a very impor­tant social and cul­tural fac­tor in how olive grow­ing has been main­tained and how it has con­tin­ued with these neigh­bor­hoods, for these peo­ple in Chimalhuacán,” Vargas said.

Along with help­ing to put these New World olive oil des­ti­na­tions on the map, the com­pe­ti­tion also serves as a sort of cen­sus, with local gov­ern­ments and mem­bers of the olive oil sec­tor work­ing to iden­tify cen­te­nary trees and nom­i­nate them for the com­ing con­tests.

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Gianfranco Vargas (left); Gerardo Carpio, the mayor of Ilo and; Zenón Cuevas, the governor of Moquegua

The idea is that the con­test, through tech­nol­ogy, uses all the resources to be able to iden­tify, cat­a­log and map these her­itage olive trees in the Americas,” he said.

In the case of some of the quadri­cen­ten­nial trees in Argentina, the con­test can also help local author­i­ties pre­serve the trees and stem the spread of dis­eases that might oth­er­wise have gone unde­tected.

For exam­ple, the Arauco olive tree [in Aimogasta] appar­ently has Xylella fas­tidiosa, which is wor­ri­some for all of us, and in a way that is also what we want to man­age,” Vargas said. There are many trees that are between life and death and the only way to pro­tect them is by giv­ing them value.”

As this new iter­a­tion of the Sudoliva con­test evolves, Vargas said it will also become a forum for train­ing olive farm­ers and oil pro­duc­ers on how to effec­tively host tourists and tast­ings.

He hopes to be able to expand upon this part of the con­test at the next edi­tion, which will take place in-per­son in Aimogasta, which is home to Argentina’s old­est olive tree (one of the award win­ners this year).

Next year we are going to do it in Argentina. We have tried to make it in Aimogasta, to give it value, to give it more impor­tance there in San Juan,” Vargas said.

There are many more olive trees. We are talk­ing about 24 out of thou­sands,” he added. Every year, we hope that many more will be added and that we will shape the route.”


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