60 Years in, Olive Council Looks at Challenges Ahead

As part of the celebration of the 60th anniversary of the IOC, Executive Director Abdellatif Ghedira spoke exclusively with Olive Oil Times on the challenges facing the sector.

The International Olive Council (IOC) celebrated its sixtieth anniversary on a visit to Rome, where some of its top officials gathered to discuss the emerging perspectives and challenges facing the intergovernmental organization.

The IOC was established in 1959 under the auspices of the United Nations and is currently composed of 17 member nations as well as the European Union.

Abdellatif Ghedira, the executive director of the IOC, told Olive Oil Times about the IOC’s long-term vision of sustainability and touched upon some of the olive-growing world’s biggest challenges, including climate change.

Ghedira acknowledged that, over the last decade, producer countries have suffered difficult seasons characterized by extreme weather conditions.

In an Olive Oil Times survey, growers from around the world said irregular weather patterns caused them trouble during this year’s harvest.

“Climate change is already having an impact on world production, leading to major fluctuations which play a big factor on the price of oil,” Ghedira said. “As I have said on several occasions, you begin to see the effects on the olive tree, a plant that is normally very resistant.”

However, Ghedira also touted the olive tree as a plant that may help mitigate some of the effects of climate change, including sequestering carbon dioxide as well as preventing erosion and desertification.

“We have calculated that producing one kilogram (2.2 pounds) of olive oil absorbs the equivalent amount of carbon dioxide emissions of a car consuming 10 liters (2.6 gallons) of fuel,” he said. “This means that every olive tree helps limit the negative effects of climate change, by absorbing more atmospheric carbon dioxide than it produces.”

Through large-scale cooperation, Ghedira and Jaime Lillo, the deputy director of the IOC, see olive cultivation and oil production not only as an environmentally sustainable industry, but one that can be economically and socially sustainable as well.

“The olive tree is a sustainable crop, which has a dimension of social sustainability, and forms the basis of the economy of several countries,” Lillo told Olive Oil Times. “We are also working on how to use the byproducts generated by the olive oil extraction, and therefore we promote the use of resources and the creation of constructive relationships, toward a circular and green economy.”

In order to create a sustainable circular economy, the IOC needs buy in from all major olive growing and oil producing nations, Ghedira said. It is this need for global cooperation, which is why the organization is open to re-admitting pariah states, such as Syria.

“The IOC is a technical organization, with no political overtones,” Ghedira said. “We think that all countries that produce and consume olive oil should be members of our organization. We need them and their farmers, just like they need us, because we can benefit from each other’s knowledge and hold an exchange of views.” More