Syria Restricts Olive Oil Exports as Harvest Outlook Worsens

Olive oil production in Syria is expected to fall by 50 percent in the 2023/24 crop year. Authorities have banned exports to prevent price rises.

Sacks of olives at a mill in the Afrin countryside in northwestern Syria (AP)
By Paolo DeAndreis
Sep. 14, 2023 16:53 UTC
Sacks of olives at a mill in the Afrin countryside in northwestern Syria (AP)

After a bumper crop last year, Syrian offi­cials expect a sharp drop in olive oil pro­duc­tion.

The Ministry of Agriculture con­firmed that the approach­ing 2023/24 crop year will yield 49,000 tons of olive oil.

According to data from the International Olive Council (IOC), Syria pro­duced 134,000 tons of olive oil in 2022/23 and an aver­age of 131,000 tons per annum over the past five years.

See Also:2023 Harvest Updates

Abeer Johar, the direc­tor of the olive office at the Ministry of Agriculture, attrib­uted the pro­duc­tion decline to many pro­duc­ers enter­ing an off-year’ in the nat­ural alter­nate bear­ing cycle of the olive tree paired with the impacts of cli­mate change.

A June 2023 report from the United Nations Population Fund cited drought and flood­ing in north­west Syria, where the vast major­ity of the country’s olive oil is pro­duced, as two of the region’s most sig­nif­i­cant non-con­flict-related chal­lenges.

If the ministry’s pro­duc­tion esti­mates come to fruition, Syrian olive oil pro­duc­tion will barely cover inter­nal con­sump­tion, which the IOC esti­mated to reach about 100,000 tons in the last two sea­sons.

As a result, Prime Minister Hussein Arnous announced a ban on olive oil exports, which took effect on September 1st. IOC data show that the coun­try exported 15,000 tons in 2021/22 and 24,000 in 2022/23.

According to Johar, ban­ning exports lim­its fur­ther price rises for domes­tic con­sumers.

Olive oil retail prices in Syria vary sig­nif­i­cantly depend­ing on the region. According to Selina Wamucii, a plat­form that con­nects farm­ers with con­sumers, olive oil prices at retail in the coun­try range from $8.87 (€8.26) to $24.75 (€23.05) per kilo­gram.

These rel­a­tively high prices put olive oil out of reach for many fam­i­lies. The country’s econ­omy has fal­tered sig­nif­i­cantly due to inter­nal con­flict and other macro­eco­nomic fac­tors.

More than 12 years of civil war have destroyed large parts of Syria, espe­cially the north­west of the coun­try, result­ing in the death of more than 300,000 civil­ians and the dis­place­ment of mil­lions more.

Rising oil and grain prices and February’s his­toric earth­quake have fur­ther com­pli­cated the macro­eco­nomic sit­u­a­tion.

Rampant infla­tion and other macro­eco­nomic trou­bles also led to neigh­bor­ing Turkey imple­ment­ing a ban on bulk olive oil exports to keep prices down.

The move came despite poor har­vests across the west­ern Mediterranean, which increased demand for imports in Spain and Italy, paired with a record-high crop in Turkey.

Despite Syria’s export ban, olive oil trade was among the top­ics Syrian and Pakistani author­i­ties dis­cussed when they met in Damascus at the end of August.

An agree­ment between the two coun­tries is in the works for import­ing and export­ing food, olive oil included.

Official fig­ures show that olive pro­duc­tion ben­e­fits 20 per­cent of the Syrian pop­u­la­tion. Olive groves com­prise 11.5 per­cent of the country’s farm­land and deliver 28 per­cent of the over­all fruit pro­duc­tion in the coun­try.

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