Project in Greece Converts Olive Cultivation Into a Climate Management Tool

For four years, the oLIVE CLIMA Project in Greece has tackled challenges posed by climate change in the Mediterranean by introducing innovative techniques to convert olive cultivation into a climate management tool.

Jan. 20, 2017
By Stav Dimitropoulos

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Since October 2012, olive groves in the most fer­tile pre­fec­tures of Heraklion (E.A.S Peza), Lassithi (E.A.S. Mirabello) and Messinia (O.P. Nileas) in Southern Greece have par­taken of an eco­log­i­cal exper­i­ment under the aus­pices of the European Union.

Most tech­niques are indeed applic­a­ble and reap imme­di­ate, vis­i­ble, and pos­i­tive finan­cial ben­e­fits.- George Michalopoulos, oLIVE CLIMA agronomist

The oLIVE CLIMA Project has been an effort to guide the Greek agri­cul­tural sec­tor toward effec­tively tack­ling the most dra­matic chal­lenges cli­mate change poses on the wider Mediterranean region by con­vert­ing olive cul­ti­va­tion into a cli­mate man­age­ment tool. 

With a bud­get of €3.65 mil­lion (funded by the Life Program of the EU), oLIVE CLIMA set the envi­ron­men­tal bar high from the out­set, and saw pos­i­tive results in the process, as three of its chief sci­en­tists explained to Olive Oil Times. 

The project aims to reduce green­house gases emis­sions, increase car­bon diox­ide cap­ture, reverse the trend of soil organic mat­ter losses, boost fer­til­ity and water reten­tion in olive grove soil, pro­vide farm­ers and con­sumers with a trans­par­ent infor­ma­tion sys­tem about the envi­ron­men­tal per­for­mance of food pro­duc­tion processes, lower the over­all olive oil pro­duc­tion cost and cre­ate added value from the stan­dard­iza­tion of cli­mate-friendly products. 

Forty parcels for each pilot area (120 in total) in both irri­gated and arid con­di­tions in the selected pre­fec­tures saw the imple­men­ta­tion of totally new cul­ti­va­tion practices. 

We began with organic mat­ter cap­tur­ing,” said Georgios Koubouris, a researcher at oLIVE CLIMA and at the Greek Institute of Olive Tree, Subtropical Plants and Viticulture. We recy­cled the wood pro­duced from tree prun­ing to use it as mulch or nutri­tion mate­r­ial, and uti­lized olive oil mill by-prod­ucts with land appli­ca­tion, either directly or after com­post­ing derived from either the process of olive grow­ing or olive oil production.”

Then, we tried to cap­ture car­bon diox­ide from the atmos­phere and trans­fer it to plants through pho­to­syn­the­sis, plus store it in plant tis­sue and soil by mod­i­fy­ing the olive grove flora or the prun­ing of olive trees.” 

Finally, we exper­i­mented with con­ser­va­tion prac­tices of organic mat­ter, and this through the zero use of tillage in order to limit ero­sion and destruc­tion of organic mat­ter and improve the soil water stor­age capacity.” 

Over four years since the pro­gram kicked off, the tech­niques employed to boost green olive oil pro­duc­tion in the regions bore fruit. 

What was con­firmed is that most tech­niques are indeed applic­a­ble and reap imme­di­ate, vis­i­ble, and pos­i­tive finan­cial ben­e­fits,” said George Michalopoulos, agron­o­mist at oLIVE CLIMA and owner of Rodaxagrom an envi­ron­men­tal and agri­cul­ture con­sul­tancy company.

Modified prun­ing and non-cul­ti­va­tion sys­tems are good exam­ples. Others, such as win­ter sow­ing, will be assessed over the long term, prob­a­bly over a decade, while tech­niques like com­post­ing will need a larger scale implementation. 

Also, we saw that some prac­tices require more spe­cial­ized equip­ment, for exam­ple, olive mill waste water (OMW) dis­per­sion or crush­ing, espe­cially with regard to the pro­duc­tion of pel­lets. We should stress that we found all these prac­tices to assist the envi­ron­ment in a mul­ti­tude of ways, cli­mate change bat­tle aside. They boost water econ­omy, bio­di­ver­sity, soil fer­til­ity, pre­vent ero­sion and many many more.” 

As for the atti­tudes of cri­sis-stricken local farm­ers toward inno­v­a­tive green prac­tices, Koubouris said that they wel­comed some of the new prac­tices like com­post­ing, spe­cial prun­ing, non-cul­ti­va­tion, or win­ter sow­ing. OMW dis­per­sion required autho­riza­tion, and with the aid of oLIVE CLIMA this tech­nique was insti­tuted in Greece. 

At this point, Dora Paschali, an envi­ron­men­tal engi­neer at oLIVE CLIMA and at the Development Agency of Eastern Thessaloniki’s Local Authorities-ANATOLIKI SA, stressed that one of the main project goals was to free farm­ers from import­ing prod­ucts like nitroge­nous fer­til­iz­ers. This cer­tainly made the cri­sis more suf­fer­able,” said Paschali. 

It is not only farm­ers. Citizens and con­sumers have sensed cli­mate change on a more per­sonal level. They react, they take mea­sures, they adjust,” elab­o­rated Michalopoulos. And olive oil cul­ti­va­tion enters the equa­tion at this exact point. 

In November 2016, the EU acknowl­edged that olive prod­ucts are the only food sta­ples in the world wor­thy of car­bon foot­print cred­its by the EU s Product Environmental Footprint (PEF),” Michalopoulos noted.



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