Thursday, December 29, 2011

The olive oil issue

Dear Laila kindly provided a translation of my article in al akhbar.

The Olive Oil Issue

The Olive oil sector in Lebanon needs a quick solution, especially as it is one of the most important sectors in agriculture. It is the principle source of income for a number of those in the countryside and even the cities. The areas planted with olive trees are equal to the area covered by woodland in Lebanon, making this noble tree a symbol of the country. 

The harvest this year was plentiful, even leading producers to protest a slump in the sales of oil, demanding that the state should buy the surplus and subsidize its export.

The producers’ demands do not come out of nowhere. The international demand for olive oil is growing at a rapid speed, particularly in countries that do not produce olives but are witnessing rapid economic growth, such as India and China. Last year, Spain increased its exports to 200,000 tons, while production in Lebanon does not exceed 9000 tons. Despite this year’s surplus, the price of the tin of oil (16kg) in Lebanon rose. Today, it is between $100 to $150. However, the price of a tin of Spanish olive oil Extra, of high quality, does not exceed $50. This means that Lebanese olive oil does not conform to market prices!

There are other strange aspects to this sector. A study carried out by the UN points out that the per capita consumption of olive oil in Lebanon is only 2.5 kg, compared to 26 kg in Greece, which subsidizes the planting of olive trees as well as the production of oil and its markets. It is worth mentioning that the consumption of olive oil which is rich in monounsaturated oil lowers the levels of harmful cholesterol in the body. Typically, high prices are a barrier to increased consumption. Therefore, the solution does not lie in export, it lies in supporting consumption to fight diseases and protect the citizens.

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