A New Era of Olive Farming Dawns in Molise

Authorities, producer associations and farmers are working together in the southern Italian region to restore abandoned groves and attract young farmers.

Molise, Italy
May. 23, 2022
By Paolo DeAndreis
Molise, Italy

Recent News

A new ini­tia­tive is under­way in Molise to pro­mote local organic olive oil pro­duc­tion and boost oleo­tourism in the south-cen­tral Italian region.

Surrounded by Campania to the south, Puglia and the Adriatic Sea to the east and Abruzzo and Lazio to the north and west, Molise is renowned for its nat­ural parks, moun­tain­ous ter­rain and the olive groves that dot its pic­turesque land­scape.

Quality is the best answer to a com­pet­i­tive mar­ket. Renewed olive groves and new farms can make a dif­fer­ence. - Luigi Di Majo, pres­i­dent, Tourism, Medicine University and Landscape Consortium

Public and pri­vate enti­ties – com­pris­ing gov­ern­ment offi­cials, pro­duc­ers, local agribusi­ness, researchers and tourism offi­cials in the region – recently announced the cre­ation of a new Molisan extra vir­gin olive oil dis­trict.

The pro­jec­t’s goals are to add value to local olive oil pro­duc­tion, restore aban­doned groves and attract young farm­ers to the olive sec­tor.

See Also:Umbrian Villages Steeped in Olive Oil Culture Promote New Tourism Initiative

Traditional Molisan olive grow­ers have suf­fered from increas­ingly com­pet­i­tive prices in the inter­na­tional olive oil mar­ket. Limited yields com­bined with high pro­duc­tion costs have seen local pro­duc­ers out-com­peted by lower-cost imported extra vir­gin olive oils.

Both con­di­tions are con­sid­ered the main dri­vers of olive grove aban­don­ment, which breed fur­ther prob­lems. According to the initiative’s pro­mot­ers, the aban­doned olive groves serve as fod­der for wild­fires, con­tribute to deser­ti­fi­ca­tion and become breed­ing grounds for pests and dis­eases.

Advertisement

On top of that, local offi­cials said olive grove aban­don­ment also leads to more unem­ploy­ment and con­tributes to the rural exo­dus, which often means experts and pro­fes­sion­als leav­ing the area.

Most Molisan pro­duc­ers are small or medium farm­ers whose groves do not fre­quently exceed two hectares.

A minor­ity of farms pro­duce high-qual­ity extra vir­gin olive oil within the spec­i­fi­ca­tions of the Molise PDO (Protected Designation of Origin), a European Union cer­ti­fi­ca­tion guar­an­tee­ing prove­nance and qual­ity.

Like in other hilly areas, the over­all regional pro­duc­tion is sig­nif­i­cantly exposed to the effect of weather extremes which com­pound the nat­ural alter­nate bear­ing cycle of the olive tree.

In its lat­est report on the olive sec­tor, the Institute of Services for the Agricultural and Food Market (Ismea) reported that Molise pro­duced 2,823 tons of olive oil dur­ing the 2020/21 crop year.

The aver­age Molisan pro­duc­tion in the lat­est four sea­sons has been esti­mated at 2,923 tons.

By apply­ing mod­ern sus­tain­able tech­niques, research­ing cul­ti­vars and expand­ing olive grove hectares, the dis­trict cre­ators plan to increase local olive oil yields while improv­ing qual­ity.

Quality is the best answer to a com­pet­i­tive mar­ket. Renewed olive groves and new farms can make a dif­fer­ence,” Luigi Di Majo, pres­i­dent of the Tourism, Medicine University and Landscape Consortium and head of the new district’s pro­mo­tion com­mit­tee, told Olive Oil Times.

The main goal of the dis­trict is to bring 14,000 hectares of olive orchards located in Molise back to opti­mal pro­duc­tion and restore the 3,000 to 4,000 hectares that have been aban­doned over time,” he added.

According to the dis­trict offi­cials, high-qual­ity olive oil pro­duc­tion is the only avail­able strat­egy.

Most of the big food retail­ers buy from a hand­ful of large bot­tlers which buy enor­mous quan­ti­ties of prod­uct at the low­est avail­able prices on the mar­ket,” they wrote in a memo seen by Olive Oil Times.

We can not even think to com­pete with Spanish and Tunisian pro­duc­ers on that front,” the offi­cials added. At least not until we entirely change our pro­duc­tion sys­tems. Instead, we need to value qual­ity and olive oil’s con­nec­tion with the ter­ri­tory just like we do with wine.”

Di Majo added that one of the district’s goals is to plant 10,000 new hectares of olive groves.

We aim to find funds for the new plants and the restruc­tur­ing of the cur­rent groves,” he said. The pub­lic funds are expected to cover 100 per­cent of those invest­ments and include the pro­mo­tional activ­i­ties.”

Still, we need suf­fi­cient quan­ti­ties to launch Molisan extra vir­gin olive oil onto inter­na­tional mar­kets,” Di Majo added.

The district’s pro­mot­ers plan to raise at least €10 mil­lion in pub­lic fund­ing for these goals.

We are think­ing of new plants with a tra­di­tional set­ting based on our high-qual­ity 20 native olive oil cul­ti­vars, which will help us bet­ter dif­fer­en­ti­ate the extra vir­gin olive oil pro­duced through­out the region,” the offi­cials wrote in the memo.

They added that most Molisan extra vir­gin olive oil can be today dif­fer­en­ti­ated in three main fla­vor pro­files, which are very well known in the olive oil world. Those are a herba­ceous pro­file, a green tomato fla­vor and a berry scented prod­uct.”

Increased dif­fer­en­ti­a­tion of local extra vir­gin olive oils is cru­cial to adding value to the prod­ucts. Defining spe­cific oper­at­ing pro­to­cols is one of the ways to achieve this.

Local part­ners will be required to adopt an opti­mal har­vest­ing period for each of the three sen­sory pro­files and select the suit­able cul­ti­vars for the new plants, accord­ing to those pro­files.

The dis­trict offi­cials will also help cur­rent and new grow­ers to con­vert to organic farm­ing and fol­low sus­tain­able best prac­tices with an eye on European and national funds, which will be ded­i­cated to the olive oil sec­tor devel­op­ment in the next few years.

The dis­trict will offer new and cur­rent farm­ers tech­ni­cal assis­tance in the field, help them access the pub­lic funds, opti­mize the use of water resources, cer­tify the trace­abil­ity of their extra vir­gin olive oil using blockchain ser­vices and par­tic­i­pate in e‑commerce oppor­tu­ni­ties.

The dis­trict offi­cials also plan to sup­port olive-focused research, expert train­ing classes, mar­ket­ing strate­gies and the devel­op­ment of the regional oleo­tourism routes.

Molise is an ideal loca­tion for high-qual­ity olive oil pro­duc­tion,” Di Majo said. And it has quite an ancient olive grow­ing tra­di­tion that dates back more than 2,000 years, as ancient Roman authors talk of the beau­ti­ful olive trees of our region.”

Two hun­dred years ago, one of the reforms intro­duced by Joachim Murat was to plant hun­dreds of olive trees here, as the oil was also used as lamp fuel,” he added, hint­ing at the his­tor­i­cal and touris­tic appeal of the Molisean olive grow­ing ter­ri­tory.

According to the dis­trict offi­cials, hun­dreds of new work oppor­tu­ni­ties will be granted to cur­rent and new agribusi­nesses through the devel­op­ment projects.



Advertisement

Related Articles

Feedback / Suggestions