Researchers Investigate Origins of White Tripolitaine Olive in Libya

They are are working to determine the best varieties for Libyan olive production.
Photo: Libyan Biotechnology Research Center
Apr. 20, 2021
Paolo DeAndreis

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Spanish and Libyan researchers met in Andalusia to iden­tify and char­ac­ter­ize the most promis­ing cul­ti­vars in the North African coun­try.

One of our goals is to inves­ti­gate the genetic pro­file of the trees that grow here and to map the most inter­est­ing cul­ti­vars for olive farm­ing,” said Adel Elmagharbi, a lead­ing researcher on the Libyan olive fin­ger­print­ing project at the Biotechnology Research Center (BTRC) in Tripoli.

We hope to iden­tify which cul­ti­vars react bet­ter to our cli­mate, which are the most inter­est­ing com­mer­cial cul­ti­vars and how to max­i­mize their yields.- Inas Alhudiri, researcher, Libyan Biotechnology Research Center

Most of them were prop­a­gated dur­ing Italian col­o­niza­tion [from 1911 to 1943] and almost 15 years ago, we found a few trees car­ry­ing white olives about 20 kilo­me­ters east of Tripoli,” he told Olive Oil Times. That is the Tripolitaine cul­ti­var and we are work­ing with our col­leagues in Córdoba to inves­ti­gate its genetic ori­gin.”

The meet­ing took place at the University of Córdoba after bilat­eral talks between the International Olive Council (IOC) and Libyan author­i­ties in Madrid. The two sides dis­cussed adding the Tripolitaine cul­ti­var to the IOC’s World Catalog of Olive Varieties.

See Also: Olive Council Awards Four Research Scholarships

Among those in atten­dance at the talks were Inas Alhudiri, the BTRC genetic engi­neer­ing depart­ment head. She told Olive Oil Times that the Libyan del­e­ga­tion is work­ing with the IOC to add the most inter­est­ing Libyan cul­ti­vars” to the IOC’s olive germplasm bank as part of the True Healthy Olive Cultivars 2 project.

We are work­ing on a mem­o­ran­dum of under­stand­ing with the University of Córdoba, which might allow us to con­duct the genetic inves­ti­ga­tion into our cul­ti­vars, train our stu­dents and experts in all areas of olive prop­a­ga­tion and farm­ing and opti­mize pro­duc­tion in Libyan orchards,” she said.

According to Mohamed Abusanina, a researcher at the depart­ment of plant tis­sue cul­ture at BTRC, Libyan sci­en­tists have already taken DNA sam­ples from local olive cul­ti­vars and sent them over to Spanish experts.

We have more than 40 geno­types for cul­ti­vars,” he told Olive Oil Times. While some of those vari­eties came from Italy, most of our orchards here have adapted to our dry weather. Some trees are more than 100 years old.”

Of pri­mary inter­est to the researchers is dis­cov­er­ing the ori­gin of the Tripolitaine cul­ti­var, which yields white olives sim­i­lar to the south­ern Italian Leucocarpa cul­ti­var and is also quite rare.

See Also: In Bid to Boost Exports, Algeria Plants Millions of Olive Trees

According to the researchers, the trees appear to thrive in Libya’s hot and dry cli­mate. Scientists at the BTRC intend to deter­mine whether the Tripolitaine olive is a muta­tion or a dif­fer­ent vari­ety and the best way to graft the trees.

One of the biggest chal­lenges fac­ing Libyan olive farm­ers is find­ing vari­eties capa­ble of with­stand­ing the low lev­els of rain­fall received by the coun­try. Even the wet­ter north­ern regions of Libya receive only slightly more than 250 to 300 mil­lime­tres of rain each year.

In this respect, we must count on many vari­eties that have shown strong resilience to extreme weather con­di­tions over time,” Abusanina said.

According to IOC data, Libya pro­duced 16,500 tons of olive oil in the 2020/21 crop year. However, by improv­ing cul­ti­va­tion tech­niques and select­ing suit­able vari­eties, these experts believe that the coun­try could improve its pro­duc­tion fig­ures.

With our Spanish coun­ter­parts, we hope to iden­tify which cul­ti­vars react bet­ter to our cli­mate, which are the most inter­est­ing com­mer­cial cul­ti­vars and how to max­i­mize their yields, to pos­si­bly sug­gest to farm­ers how and where they could invest more in new olive orchards and receive good olive yields,” Alhudiri said.

Away from this project, Libyan offi­cials hope that this renewed coop­er­a­tion with the IOC will lead to fur­ther col­lab­o­ra­tion and, even­tu­ally, the offi­cial recog­ni­tion of Libyan chem­i­cal and sen­sory analy­sis labs.

Researchers also hope to increase coop­er­a­tion with some of the country’s neigh­bors, includ­ing Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco, to pro­mote olive oil pro­duc­tion across North Africa.





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