Project to Improve Sustainability of Algeria’s Olive Farms Bears Fruit

By improving harvesting and milling best practices, PASA seeks to improve the economic potential of olive oil production.

Program for the Support of Agriculture (PASA)
By Paolo DeAndreis
Feb. 10, 2023 14:22 UTC
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Program for the Support of Agriculture (PASA)

Thousands of olive grow­ers in north­ern Algeria are involved in a major project to develop a mod­ern and sus­tain­able olive oil pro­duc­tion chain based on inter­na­tional stan­dards.

About 130,000 hectares of olive groves are involved in the Program for the Support of Agriculture (PASA), a fig­ure which is expected to increase.

The pro­gram, which is being imple­mented by the Algerian gov­ern­ment and has received fund­ing from the European Union and French and German pub­lic enti­ties, focuses on water man­age­ment and lim­it­ing the envi­ron­men­tal impact of olive farm­ing.

See Also:Producers in Algeria Anticipate Worst Harvest in 30 Years

While a sec­ond PASA branch sup­ports date and veg­etable farm­ing in south­ern Algeria, the pro­jec­t’s impact on the olive sec­tor mainly focuses on the three north­ern wilayas (provinces) of the Soummam val­ley: Béjaïa, Bouïra and Tizi Ouzou.

The olive tree is com­mon in Algeria, of course,” Paul Lompech, head of com­mu­ni­ca­tion for the pro­gram, told Olive Oil Times. One of the rea­sons PASA focused its effort in the Soummam val­ley relates to the ubiq­ui­tous pres­ence of the olive tree in the area. Almost every fam­ily here owns at least some olive trees, olive groves which are their her­itage.”

The olive har­vest is a tra­di­tional fam­ily cel­e­bra­tion that brings home many peo­ple who live else­where dur­ing the rest of the year,” he added. Beyond the eco­nomic aspects, olives rep­re­sent a large por­tion of the local cul­ture in Kabylia [a his­tor­i­cal and cul­tural region located in Béjaïa and Tizi Ouzou].”

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While some groves are as large as 100 hectares, most are far smaller in northern Algeria.

On top of that, 60 per­cent of the Algerian olive trees are to be found there, and 70 per­cent of the olive oil pro­duc­tion comes from those wilayas,” Lompech con­tin­ued.

The project will teach farm­ers how to mon­i­tor the health of their trees, prun­ing tech­niques and olive har­vest and milling best prac­tices.

PASA also aims to develop irri­ga­tion and water resources; pro­mote gen­der equal­ity; invest in olive chain eco­nom­ics, such as bot­tling and qual­ity analy­sis; and adopt a regional qual­ity stan­dard for nurs­eries and lab­o­ra­to­ries.

Most peo­ple in the region would not know much about the inter­na­tional qual­ity stan­dards or olive oil grades,” Lompech said. One of the rea­sons is that they never had the means to ana­lyze their olive oil. On top of that, some basic knowl­edge is often miss­ing.”

For exam­ple, har­vested olives may sit in the groves for one, two or even three weeks before trans­for­ma­tion,” he added. That means that the result­ing olive oil will be very poor in terms of qual­ity.”

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PASA hopes to improve yileds by teachng local farmers pruning and harvesting best practices.

The pro­gram aims to develop a new approach to olive oil pro­duc­tion based on com­mon qual­ity and envi­ron­men­tal stan­dards, com­ple­ment­ing effec­tive local farm­ing prac­tices.

We already have dozens of locally-trained agents who spread the knowl­edge in the three ini­tial wilayas and neigh­bor­ing ones,” Lompech said. The goal is to train about 50,000 pro­duc­ers, not only pro­fes­sional ones but also fam­ily olive oil pro­duc­ers.”

Given the oro­graphic nature of the moun­tain­ous val­ley and the long-stand­ing tra­di­tion of fam­i­lies pro­duc­ing olive oil solely for their own use, olive farms tend to be very small and scat­tered across the land­scape.

A 100-hectare olive grove is about the largest one could find in the area,” Lompech said. Therefore, another of the pro­jec­t’s goals is to develop new asso­ci­a­tions among small grow­ers.

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Algeria’s mountainous terrain means many of the coutnry’s olive groves are fragmented across wide areas, unlike many groves in Spain or Tunisia.

We are talk­ing about coop­er­a­tives, for instance, com­mon enti­ties which can help their com­mu­nity to cope with the biggest chal­lenges and boost local devel­op­ment,” Lompech said.

Almost three mil­lion peo­ple live in the three wilayas. About 3,000 of them have been able to trans­form olive grow­ing into an eco­nom­i­cally viable enter­prise, but the new project has still piqued the inter­est of many in the region.

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They are very inter­ested in know­ing more about olive oil qual­ity, in learn­ing new tech­niques for a sus­tain­able approach to olive farm­ing,” Lompech said.

When we first arrived in the local vil­lages and talked with the peo­ple, intro­duc­ing some key con­cepts for olive farm­ing, they noticed the results, that is all many needed to start improv­ing their activ­i­ties,” he added.

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Gender equality and improving the economics of olive growing are among PASA’s goals.

The grow­ing inter­est of local farm­ers in mod­ern­iz­ing their farm­ing and milling oper­a­tions has also been spurred by recent nat­ural dis­as­ters.

The mega-blazes which hit these regions in 2020 and 2021 were a tragedy,” Lompech said. However, well-man­aged olive groves may be a solu­tion to pre­vent­ing the fast spread of future wild­fires in the region.

Along with improv­ing the sec­tor’s com­pet­i­tive­ness, PASA has shared its envi­ron­men­tal exper­tise since begin­ning the project in 2018.

PASA needs olive grow­ers to be aware of the sus­tain­able aspects of such an activ­ity,” Lompech said. At the same time, we are work­ing to sup­port a broader under­stand­ing of cli­mate change and how it might impact their work.”

Lompech hopes improved milling and har­vest­ing knowl­edge, qual­ity cer­ti­fi­ca­tions and a com­plete lab­o­ra­tory will be the legacy the project leaves behind.

In the future, we hope for a wide-rang­ing agree­ment with the International Olive Council,” he con­cluded. It will take time.”


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