Lebanese Olive Oil: Exploring Intricacies of a Sector With Potential

Irrevocably known as one of the cradles of olive growing areas, Lebanon’s ancestral heritage of olive trees along with its microclimate and fertile rain-fed soil assembles auspicious conditions for the production of high-quality olive oils.
All these favorable conditions combined, Lebanon still remains a low scale producing country. This stagnation is due to many factors including the civil war aftermath and the government’s apathy towards its agricultural sector.

After a raging civil war that lasted fifteen years (1975-1990), Lebanon found itself way behind its competitors who in the meantime had drastically evolved in technology and developed an advanced agricultural stratum. Meanwhile, in Lebanon, growers were still employing rustic methods at producing their oil while the production and export volume of the pre-war period haven’t been reached ever since.

Lebanon’s production oscillates between 10,000 and 30,000 tons of olive oil yearly depending on the crop. Its cultivation covers over 58,000 hectares of land and about 41 percent of its produced oil takes place in the north, followed by the South with 36 percent, 13 percent in the Bekaa valley, and 10 percent in Mount Lebanon.

It wasn’t until the beginning of the 21st century that independent producers started being aware of their digressed state and acted upon their own initiative, instead of waiting for an unconcerned government to value the country’s asset in olive cultivation.

Agricultural engineer and well-travelled Lebanese entrepreneur, Youssef Fares is a fifth-generation producer on a family-owned, 24-hectare grove in Akkar-Baino, a district in northern Lebanon, near the Syrian border.

In 2004, Fares turned his family’s grove into a nationally and internationally renowned company, Olive Trade, which produces EVOO and olive-derived products under the brand name of Zejd (oil in ancient Phoenician).

Zejd’s EVOO is made with the endemic variety Soury, the name of which comes from the word Tyre or Sour in Arabic, which is a city located on the southern coast of Lebanon, one of the port cities from where the Phoenicians began the tradition of commerce.

Although Lebanon doesn’t have a national reference for olive collections, it is estimated that around ten olive varieties are being cultivated, such as Samakmaki, Airouni, Baladi, Chami, Edlebis, with Soury being the most common variety in the region. The fruit gives a balanced bitter and pungent taste. This fruit has an exceptionally high oil yield of 20 to 25 percent.

Fares is a conscientious producer, and this has led him to employ an ethical philosophy in work that he wishes will spread among his counterparts.

Through Olive Trade, Fares valorizes waste by producing by-products from the olive press cake (solid) that are later sold in the market, such as olive husk logs. The olive mill waste (liquid), once properly treated, are used in the olive orchards to irrigate the soil.

“Olive Trade” were the pioneers at introducing good environmental practices in the country’s olive oil supply chain. Ever since, more and more growers have followed the same policy. “Through Olive Trade, we protect our environment while being financially sustainable,” said Fares. More