The International Finance Corporation, an agency of the World Bank announced it is launching the second phase of a project that helps the packaging of olive oil by exporting companies in the West Bank. The aim is to improve their competitiveness, compliance with international standards and increase its presence in world markets.

The program which began in 2006 helps the eight companies that together account for most of the sector in the region develop the supply chain, improve product quality and increase exports. The second phase, lasting until January 2012, will encourage those firms access to international markets by obtaining funding. The project will also guide companies to find ways to use byproducts of olive oil production and reduce potential negative environmental impacts.

The program has already scored several successes. It has helped five companies obtain certification in accordance with international food standards and trained more than a hundred employees of the bottling companies and their suppliers in packaging and procedures for the export of olive oil. Ali Anabtawi, CEO of Near East Industries and Trade Co. noted that the certification  received with IFC support has been critical “to help us penetrate new markets and build legitimacy with large international retail customers.

Olive oil production is a major driver of economic growth in the West Bank and Gaza, where it accounts for 5% of GDP and employs more than 100,000 families directly and indirectly. IFC expects that its involvement will help increase exports of the sector by 2014. Lars Thunell, IFC executive vice president stressed that “support for the agricultural sector in the West Bank and Gaza is vital. It helps create jobs and economic opportunities in these territories. IFC is helping olive oil oil producers to overcome limitations such as lack of funding and knowledge of marketing techniques.”