Despite Drop in Production and Exports, Moroccan Producers Remain Optimistic

Moroccan olive oil production is expected to exceed that of Tunisia, Turkey and Portugal.
Oct 15, 2020 10:43 AM EDT
Paolo DeAndreis

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Morocco is on pace to be the fifth largest pro­ducer of olive oil in the 2020/21 crop year, accord­ing to data pub­lished by Juan Vilar Strategic Consultants.

The North African coun­try is expected to pro­duce 140,000 tons of olive oil in the cur­rent crop year, a slight decline com­pared to the pre­vi­ous year and 60,000 fewer tons than the record-break­ing har­vest in 2018/19.

I think the cur­rent strat­egy of focus­ing on two major mar­kets – the U.S. and E.U. – with our cur­rent pro­duc­tion is the right first step.- Ali Belaj , pro­ducer and som­me­lier

In spite of the con­sec­u­tive years of decline, olive oil pro­duc­tion in Morocco con­tin­ues to trend upward, mostly due to a gov­ern­ment ini­tia­tive to plant more olive trees.

However, Noureddine Ouazzani, the head of the pro­ducer asso­ci­a­tion, Agro-Pôle Olivier Meknès, warned that plenty of chal­lenges still lie ahead for Moroccan olive farm­ers.

See Also: 2020 Harvest Updates

Ouazzani told the local news agency Agrimaroc that Covid-19 con­tain­ment mea­sures will bring over­all oper­at­ing costs up since they dic­tate how many work­ers may be present at one time and con­trol their move­ment across regions.

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In a sep­a­rate inter­view with La Vie Eco, Ouazzani said work­ers would nor­mally com­mute to the groves in crowded trans­port trucks, but as a result of the virus, trans­porta­tion costs would likely dou­ble or triple.

He also empha­sized how increas­ing costs for pro­duc­ers are also due to the low level of mechan­i­cal inno­va­tion in the fields and mills.

Over the last dozen years, the Moroccan gov­ern­ment has focused on pro­mot­ing the olive oil and table olive pro­duc­tion sec­tors. Since 2008, olive pro­duc­tion has risen from 662,000 tons to 1.56 mil­lion tons, in 2018.

The num­ber of olive groves in the coun­try has also grown sub­stan­tially and is set to reach three mil­lion acres (1.2 mil­lion hectares) in 2030.

Along with increas­ing pro­duc­tion, another prong of the Green Morocco Project – a strat­egy meant to boost the coun­try’s entire agri­cul­tural sec­tor – is the pro­mo­tion of Moroccan exports.

Currently, Morocco exports about two bil­lion dirham ($218 mil­lion) worth of olive oil and table olives each year.

In an aver­age year, roughly one-third of these exports are shipped north across the Mediterranean to ports in Italy and Spain.

However, exports to the 27-mem­ber trad­ing bloc have fallen by 64 per­cent com­pared with the 2018/19 crop year and 40 per­cent com­pared with the rolling five year aver­age, accord­ing to data pub­lished by the European Commission.

The com­bi­na­tion of a lower-than-expected har­vest in 2019, the Covid-19 pan­demic and a bumper crop in Tunisia have all been blamed for dimin­ish­ing exports to Europe, which is the largest sin­gle des­ti­na­tion for Moroccan olive oil.

However, Ali Belaj, a Moroccan olive oil pro­ducer and som­me­lier, told Olive Oil Times that Moroccan olive oils remain in high demand in Europe and he expects these exports to bounce back.

I would not say that exports to the E.U. were directly affected by an increase in Tunisian pro­duc­tion,” he said. Tunisia has olive oil that is fan­tas­tic, that said Morocco’s foot­print in the E.U. is very sig­nif­i­cant with a long his­tory.”

His belief is shared by the rest of the Moroccan gov­ern­ment, which has received 11.6 bil­lion dirham ($1.26 bil­lion) of pub­lic and pri­vate invest­ment from the E.U. to bol­ster its pro­duc­tion.

Away from the E.U., Belaj said that Moroccan pro­duc­ers are increas­ingly con­cen­trat­ing on the North American mar­ket, with a recently-launched gov­ern­ment ini­tia­tive to pro­mote Moroccan olive oil in the United States.

I think the cur­rent strat­egy of focus­ing on two major mar­kets – the U.S. and E.U. – with our cur­rent pro­duc­tion is the right first step,” he said. However, Asia is another big poten­tial mar­ket, as their con­sumers are start­ing to change their habits and use more olive oil, but all in due time.”





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