Olive Trees and the Future of Sustainable Agriculture

Earth Day has been celebrated every year on April 22nd since its inception in 1970. It is a day that mobilizes well over a billion people worldwide to enact both local and global change relating to every aspect of environmental health. From climate education and campaigning to tree planting, community cleanups, voter education, and everything in between, the successes of Earth Day initiatives are something to be celebrated. At Evoolution, we know that the future of the olive oil industry is dependant on our action in the face of climate change, and we strive to do our part each and every day.

Climate change is one of the largest threats to global food security, and its effects are already being seen in extreme weather events around the world. Drought events are already a major challenge facing farmers and agricultural producers, and olive growers are no exception. In areas experiencing drought, lower moisture levels and increased water loss from plants due to higher temperatures cause extreme stress on the plant. Fortunately, olive trees are hardy and well-suited to withstand these challenges. Hope remains high for olive crop adaptation, especially as more research is being done on which olive cultivars are the most drought resistant.  

Another huge benefit to growing olives is that olive trees are a carbon sink and producing extra virgin olive oil has a net negative carbon balance on a local level. In other words, there is more carbon dioxide captured by olive trees in their growing process than is produced and emitted by the whole process of producing the oil. And not just by a small amount- a recent study showed that in producing 1 litre of extra virgin olive oil, the olive tree sequestered or captured 6kg of carbon dioxide while the production process only emitted 3.4kg of carbon dioxide.* This means, that if the olive oil production practices are managed in a sustainable matter, extra virgin olive oil production can have a negative carbon footprint.** The implications of this approach provide hope for other agricultural producers, and for the importance of olive trees in the growing fight against climate change. 

Many of the groves from which we receive our extra virgin olive oils have already adopted such practices to help do their part in mitigating their footprint on the land. Many olive-growing regions have great solar energy potential and have fitted solar panels to provide a renewable source of energy for powering operations.

Some groves use sheep and other grazing animals instead of machinery or herbicides to minimize weeds. A byproduct created in extra virgin olive oil production is the crushed olive pit that may seem like waste but can actually be rather useful. The crushed pits can be used as fuel to generate heat or electricity, or they can be used in the creation of barbeque briquettes and artificial turf. Approaching byproducts in the extra virgin olive oil production chain not as waste, but as additional products help to increase the output in the value chain of production. 

So, although it is still an uphill battle, much like their crops, olive farmers are resilient. The history of cultivation and global expansion of this crop in the face of pests and diseases, natural disasters and extreme weather over the last thousand years is a testament to this fact. The cultural and historical significance of this crop embodies the spirit of perseverance and shows us that there is hope yet for the future of sustainable agriculture.  


* https://www.oliveoiltimes.com/world/experts-back-olives-in-a-hotter-drier-world/129181
** https://www.oliveoiltimes.com/world/olive-trees-can-help-beat-climate-change/125328 

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