`Pioneering Producer Believes Intensive Olive Farming Is the Future in Lebanon - Olive Oil Times

Pioneering Producer Believes Intensive Olive Farming Is the Future in Lebanon

By Daniel Dawson
May. 9, 2024 14:09 UTC

As Lebanon’s eco­nomic cri­sis enters its fourth year, its agri­cul­tural sec­tor stands at a cross­roads.

According to a November 2023 arti­cle from the Lebanese Center for Policy Studies, a think tank, the cri­sis has com­pounded pre-exist­ing chal­lenges in the sec­tor, includ­ing high pro­duc­tion costs, skilled labor short­ages and the highly frag­mented nature of Lebanese farm­ing.

The olive-grow­ing world is adopt­ing new tech­nol­ogy, but every­one in Lebanon is still fol­low­ing the old ways.- Charbel Jaoude, founder, CBio Jaoude

Charbel Jaoude, an archi­tect and founder of CBio Jaoude, believes plant­ing high-den­sity and super-high-den­sity groves is the answer to tack­ling these chal­lenges in the country’s olive sec­tor.

Olive oil pro­duc­tion has long been an essen­tial part of Lebanese agri­cul­ture. About one-fourth of the country’s arable land – 56,400 hectares – is cov­ered by olive groves.

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Most of these groves are found in the coastal moun­tains in west­ern and south­ern Lebanon, where there is more rain. However, the rugged ter­rain pre­vents plant­ing at high-den­sity or super-high-den­sity and pre­cludes using machines to har­vest the trees.

Jaoude believes these inten­sive meth­ods of olive cul­ti­va­tion are nec­es­sary for the sec­tor to over­come the eco­nomic cri­sis by low­er­ing pro­duc­tion costs and decreas­ing labor require­ments while allow­ing farm­ers to main­tain qual­ity.

The olive-grow­ing world is adopt­ing new tech­nol­ogy, but every­one in Lebanon is still fol­low­ing the old ways,” he told Olive Oil Times.

In 2012, Jaoude became the first super-high-den­sity olive farmer in the coun­try, plant­ing more than 11,500 Arbequina olive trees on nine hectares in the fer­tile Beqaa Valley. The val­ley com­prises arid plains about 60 kilo­me­ters east of Beirut and is home to Lebanon’s most well-known wine-pro­duc­ing dis­tricts.

After much study, I decided to plant super-high-den­sity [spaced 1.35 meters by 3.75 meters] in Beqaa because the land is flat, with a lot of sun and good soil,” Jaoude said.

Jaoude orig­i­nally planned to plant 200 hectares of olive trees but had dif­fi­culty buy­ing enough land suit­able for inten­sive olive grow­ing. The aver­age size of a sin­gle farm in Lebanon is 1.4 hectares, so acquir­ing large amounts of land can be a logis­ti­cal chal­lenge.

Instead, Jaoude decided to travel around the coun­try and find inter­ested part­ners to pur­chase more land and plant olive trees in the coun­try’s flat­ter east­ern and north­ern regions.

I’m work­ing to help more peo­ple plant super-high-den­sity olive farms,” he said. Over the past five years, we have planted 1.4 mil­lion Arbequina trees” at high-den­sity and super-high-den­sity in Beqaa and Akkar.

Jaoude said plant­ing olive trees inten­sively allows him to har­vest faster. Using machines, he har­vests his entire grove in one day, yield­ing about 80 tons of olives. Previously, he said it took 40 to 50 work­ers a whole day to har­vest two tons.

Additionally, he can remove prun­ing debris and spray kaolin clay more effi­ciently. Jaoude said each of these tasks takes about 30 min­utes, allow­ing him to lower his labor costs tremen­dously.

Researchers in Spain have esti­mated that it costs 4.5 times more to pro­duce a kilo­gram of olive oil from tra­di­tion­ally planted groves than from super-high-den­sity groves.

Jaoude chose Arbequina trees because they are adapt­able to inten­sive olive cul­ti­va­tion and are his­tor­i­cally asso­ci­ated with the region.


While Arbequina is native to Catalonia, the vari­ety was spawned from olive trees brought to Spain in the 18th cen­tury by Medinaceli, the baron of Arbeca. The trees were shipped from Palestine, which included parts of mod­ern-day Lebanon.

Due to the arid cli­mate, Jaoude can cul­ti­vate the olives organ­i­cally, using goat manure to fer­til­ize the trees and kaolin clay to keep pests away. He also max­i­mizes the pol­li­na­tion poten­tial by trans­port­ing his bees into the grove each spring.

Water avail­abil­ity is the main chal­lenge for inten­sive olive cul­ti­va­tion in the Beqaa Valley and north­ern Lebanon. Due to low pre­cip­i­ta­tion lev­els, Jaoude must irri­gate his olives twice weekly.

He crit­i­cized Lebanese water pol­icy as the main lim­it­ing fac­tor to olive grow­ing in the region. Jaoude said there is plenty of avail­able water, but a 1994 agree­ment with Syria pro­hib­ited new wells from being drilled in the Beqaa Valley to pump water.

He has since nego­ti­ated an exemp­tion with local offi­cials, but this treaty remains a sig­nif­i­cant hur­dle in expand­ing super-high-den­sity olive groves.

Despite the water sourc­ing chal­lenges, Jaoude pro­duced five tons of extra vir­gin olive oil in the 2023/24 crop year. As the olive trees mature, he antic­i­pates the olive oil yields will con­tinue to increase.

In its pre­lim­i­nary har­vest esti­mate pub­lished in November, the International Olive Council fore­casted Lebanon to pro­duce 18,000 tons of olive oil, slightly above the five-year aver­age.

Since then, many olive groves in the south of the coun­try have been dam­aged and olive grow­ers dis­placed as Israeli forces have exchanged fire with Hezbollah, a polit­i­cal party and mil­i­tant group with links to Iran. As a result, Lebanese pro­duc­tion will fall below this ini­tial esti­mate.

Still, Jaoude is opti­mistic that national pro­duc­tion will increase as more high-den­sity and super-high-den­sity groves mature and investors see the oppor­tu­nity pre­sented by the cul­ti­va­tion method in east­ern and north­ern Lebanon.


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