Sales Slump, Drought, Hit Already Struggling Sicilian Farmers

Sicilian farmers struggle with drought and a severe sales slump as consumers move to cheaper, imported oil blends, leaving premium local EVOOs on grocery shelves.

May. 11, 2020
By Paolo DeAndreis

After seven weeks of a lock­down, things aren’t get­ting any eas­ier for Sicilian farm­ers. Now they face two new adver­saries: a sales slump and a drought.

Consumers should be wary of the low-cost olive oils on the mar­ket because, when it is sold at a price that low, it can not be a true extra vir­gin.- Coldiretti Sicilia

Olive oil sales, in gen­eral, have been robust dur­ing the Covid-19 lock­down, but this has not ben­e­fited pro­duc­ers of Sicilian extra vir­gin olive oil. Consumers are leav­ing their prod­ucts on the shelves in favor of cheaper blends made from imported oils, mostly from Spain and Tunisia. With restau­rants and hotels shut­tered for the dura­tion of the lock­down, Sicilian farm­ers have seen their sales drop by 80 per­cent since the restric­tions went into effect.

The rise of imports and the pric­ing race to the bot­tom have dealt yet another blow to pro­duc­ers who were already strug­gling amid the gen­eral eco­nomic uncer­tainty, the local branch of farm­ers asso­ci­a­tion, Coldiretti, stated in a press release. The asso­ci­a­tion warned that the cheap prices would bring about a deep cri­sis” for pro­duc­ers.

See Also: Producers: Spanish Olive Oil Prices Inconsistent With Market Conditions

Farmers and pack­agers are hav­ing to store some of the most well-known PDO (pro­tected des­ig­na­tion of ori­gin) and PGI (pro­tected geo­graph­i­cal indi­ca­tion) oils because they have not been able to sell them.

While it may take another month or so to make a reli­able pre­dic­tion about the upcom­ing har­vest sea­son, Coldiretti Sicilia noted that it looked promis­ing. Meanwhile, farm­ers are look­ing wor­riedly at cur­rent mar­ket con­di­tions and the endur­ing effect of the epi­demic on the local econ­omy.

Olive oil is one of the most rel­e­vant agri­cul­tural prod­ucts of the island, and in 2019 its yield reached 35,000 tons. Consumers should be wary of the low-cost olive oils on the mar­ket because, when it is sold at a price that low, it can not be a true extra vir­gin [oil],” wrote Coldiretti.

On top of the mar­ket tur­moil, Sicily is also fac­ing one of its most intense droughts to date. The local water author­ity has called for water cuts of up to 15 per­cent for farm­ers in the Trapani province, and up to 33 per­cent in the Palermo area. The author­ity has asked farm­ers to revive unused wells and encour­aged grow­ers to dig new wells by promis­ing fast pas­sage through the red tape.

Antonino Cossentino, pres­i­dent of the Italian Confederation of Farmers, asked offi­cials for incen­tives to use old wells, not­ing that it was expen­sive to revi­tal­ize them.

The local gov­ern­ment has promised finan­cial assis­tance for farm­ers and pro­duc­ers in response to the chal­lenges. Sicilian Secretary of Agriculture Edy Bandiera said the first tranche of €50 mil­lion ($53.93 mil­lion) will be awarded to the farm­ers hard­est hit by the effects of the pan­demic in the form of direct grants and fis­cal incen­tives.

Sicilian farm­ers will see a reduc­tion in taxes on water use for the remain­der of the year. To help farm­ers reach local and inter­na­tional mar­kets, the Sicilian gov­ern­ment has also announced the ini­tia­tive Made in Sicily,” a new cer­ti­fi­ca­tion for high-qual­ity local prod­ucts. The gov­ern­ment said it hopes to launch the cer­ti­fi­ca­tion within a few months.


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