Egypt Expects Lower Production After Extreme Weather Damages Groves

In many parts of Egypt, yields are expected to be between 50 and 80-percent below the average. However, producers are optimistic about the future.

Photo: Wadi Food
Nov. 30, 2021
By Paolo DeAndreis
Photo: Wadi Food

Recent News

The 2021/22 crop year will not be remem­bered as the most fruit­ful for Egyptian olive pro­duc­ers, as cool months fol­lowed by sud­den heat­waves neg­a­tively affected the olive trees.

Local sources told Olive Oil Times of pro­duc­tion decreases rang­ing from 50 to 80 per­cent, com­pared to aver­age yields. According to International Olive Council data, Egypt pro­duced 40,000 tons of olive oil in the 2020/21 crop year, slightly above the rolling five-year aver­age of 38,500 tons.

Heatwaves fol­lowed by unsta­ble cold and frosty weather dis­rupted the nor­mal fruit set­ting con­di­tions and hence the olive crop.- Kalil Nasrallah, vice-pres­i­dent, Wadi Food

This year, the crop was affected by sev­eral fac­tors all related to cli­mate,” said Kalil Nasrallah, vice-pres­i­dent of Wadi Food, the country’s old­est olive oil pro­ducer.

The cold win­ter delayed the flow­er­ing of the trees and when they finally flow­ered, heat­waves fol­lowed by unsta­ble cold and frosty weather dis­rupted the nor­mal fruit set­ting con­di­tions and hence the olive crop,” he told Olive Oil Times. The phe­nom­e­non was wit­nessed across Egypt and the region.”

See Also:2021 Harvest Updates

Hussein Abu Saddam, head of the Farmers Syndicate, told Mada Masr mag­a­zine that they esti­mate yields drop­ping up to 50 per­cent through­out the coun­try. Meanwhile, the coun­try’s Central Laboratory for Agricultural Climate esti­mated a 60 to 80-per­cent decrease com­pared to the pre­vi­ous year.

According to Mohamed Fahim, the direc­tor of the cli­mate change unit of the Ministry of Agriculture and Land Reclamation, the 2021 olive har­vest began to unravel in March after high tem­per­a­tures dam­aged olive tree blos­soms.

He told Middle East Eye mag­a­zine that weather con­di­tions are becom­ing more severe these years. This is hav­ing a very strong effect on the agri­cul­tural sec­tor as a whole.”

The Ministry of Agriculture and Land Reclamation recently invited farm­ers to work on adap­ta­tion strate­gies to bet­ter face the effects of cli­mate change.

According to Mada Mars, grow­ers were told to imple­ment fer­til­iza­tion oper­a­tions while the gov­ern­ment worked with local agen­cies to keep farm­ers informed about weather and how it would affect pro­duc­tion, also pro­vid­ing sup­port to face extreme events.

The min­istry also has insisted on apply­ing best prac­tices in farm­ing and adopt­ing new tech­nolo­gies to help mit­i­gate the effects of bad weather.

Farmers increas­ingly con­sider cli­mate change to be a game-changer that requires spe­cific adap­ta­tion strate­gies.


Photo: Wadi Food

Egypt is already very mod­ern in olive farm­ing tech­nol­ogy as most of the olive groves are located in the desert where water is an expen­sive com­mod­ity and only seri­ous farm­ers would ven­ture or pre­vail,” Nasrallah said.

What is forc­ing change is the way we accli­ma­tize the trees to the new con­di­tions and this is an ongo­ing process where we need to change some old habits in prun­ing tech­niques as well as other agri­cul­tural prac­tices in order to adapt,” he added. This will take a lot of time and effort and we will unlikely see a change in one sea­son but need to patiently wait for a full adap­ta­tion cycle of three years at the very least.”

A 2014 pres­i­den­tial decree cre­ated an agri­cul­tural sol­i­dar­ity fund to sus­tain farm­ers’ losses due to pests, dis­ease and extreme events, but it is yet to be fully imple­mented.

Therefore, the chal­leng­ing sea­son has affected the econ­omy of the coun­try. Egypt is the world’s largest table olive pro­ducer and a sig­nif­i­cant olive oil pro­ducer.

According to IOC data, Egypt pro­duced 800,000 tons of table olives in the 2020/21 crop year, the country’s high­est-ever total, and exported 120,000 tons. Only Spain exports more table olives.

While the coun­try has steadily risen to dom­i­nate the global table olive sec­tor, the Egyptian gov­ern­ment aspires to do the same with olive oil. In 2019, they announced plans to plant 100 mil­lion trees specif­i­cally for olive oil pro­duc­tion.

According to the Egyptian Council of Ministers, 53 mil­lion trees have already been planted in the last two years. International Olive Council fig­ures show that Egyptian farm­land ded­i­cated to olive grow­ing has expanded from 31,000 hectares in 1995 to more than 103,000 in 2018.


Photo: Wadi Food

Abdelaziz Mahmoud Abaelkhashab, a researcher at the Giza-based Horticulture Research Institute of the Agricultural Research Center, said that the ideal olive grow­ing areas (exclud­ing the Sinai region) run across north­ern Egypt from Matrooh to El-Moghra at an ele­va­tion of 18 to 80 meters above sea level.

In the south­ern regions, at between 100 and 200 meters above sea level, the higher tem­per­a­tures are more suited to table olives,” Abaelkhasha wrote in an IOC report.

According to the Agricultural Research Center, landown­ers in El-Moghra and west­ern Menia, in Upper Egypt, have already planted hun­dreds of thou­sands of trees, using solar energy to power pumps for irri­ga­tion.

They hope to focus on oil olive cul­ti­vars and geno­types in order to boost olive oil pro­duc­tion,” Abaelkhashab wrote.

With only three per­cent of the coun­try’s ter­ri­tory con­sid­ered appro­pri­ate for farm­ing, Egypt faces grow­ing deser­ti­fi­ca­tion in key areas. In such con­di­tions, olive grow­ing in the desert is increas­ingly seen as an oppor­tu­nity.

From our own expe­ri­ence, the qual­ity of the olives in the desert is excel­lent whether we need it for olive oil or table olives,” Nasrallah said. In the serene desert con­di­tions, olive groves have been prop­erly planned with the right vari­eties of olives and the ideal spac­ing between trees to shield wind and sand.”

The trees have fewer dis­eases and pests while deep wells pro­vide pure non-pol­luted water for irri­ga­tion,” he added. The fre­quency of irri­ga­tion is also well mon­i­tored to suit the demand of the trees and to keep the crop healthy.”


Photo: Wadi Food

Due to the fact that larger size com­pa­nies are plant­ing the desert, they often also have means to press the olives at their own or shared oil mills within hours of har­vest­ing, which min­i­mizes han­dling and spoilage,” Nasrallah con­tin­ued. This all results in very high-qual­ity extra vir­gin olive oils.”

The coun­try’s inter­est in olive oil pro­duc­tion is not only due to the grow­ing export oppor­tu­ni­ties but also to a new olive oil cul­ture slowly mak­ing inroads among the Egyptian house­holds.

Egypt used to be the only Mediterranean coun­try that did not have olive oil-based cui­sine,” Nasrallah said. While olives were read­ily used in Egyptian meals, olive oil was a scarce and expen­sive com­mod­ity that only wealthy con­sumers could afford.”

Over the past 15 years or so, Egyptian con­sumers became aware of the health ben­e­fits of the olive oil, specif­i­cally extra vir­gin olive oil, and demand started to increase,” he added.

Backing up his claims, IOC data indi­cate that olive oil con­sump­tion in Egypt rose from 5,000 tons in the 2010/11 crop year to 41,000 tons in 2020/21.

Nasrallah attrib­uted a rise in olive oil cul­ture to an increase in mod­ern shop­ping out­lets, Mediterranean restau­rants that offer Middle Eastern, Italian and Greek cui­sine and a rise in the pop­u­lar­ity of cook­ing shows that often show­case extra vir­gin olive oil as one of the ingre­di­ents.

The Covid-19 pan­demic has also played a role in Egypt’s grow­ing appetite for olive oil. Emergency mea­sures forced many more Egyptians to eat at home and focus on the healthy qual­i­ties of their food.

There are many trends that could be observed since the begin­ning of the pan­demic,” Nasrallah said. The most impor­tant in our case is the growth of home­made meals and the demand for healthy foods.”

When you cook for your­self, you tend to buy the best ingre­di­ents and fol­low recipes that are very often rich in olive oil,” he con­cluded.


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