Lebanon News

Politics, economy harm Lebanon's olive oil

People use sticks to harvest their olive trees during an olive picking day in the southern village of Hilta, Lebanon, Friday, Oct. 21, 2011. (The Daily Star/Mohammed Zaatari)

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s olive oil is being threatened by political turmoil and economic instability, which has allowed cheaper foreign products to flood the domestic market, a local USAID-funded project said Thursday.

The country’s tenuous political landscape and security situation has shadowed the production of its rich local organic products, especially olive oil. Lebanon, renowned for its sprawling olive orchards, has seen a decrease in local demand for olive oil over the years due to the high cost of production, making way for imported products to sway consumers.

It’s a harsh reality that the Lebanon Industry Value Chain Development, funded by USAID, seeks to alleviate with the launching of its Olive Oil Value Chain Project at Beirut Symposium’s West Hall Thursday. The project seeks to support local production of extra virgin olive oil in particular.

Sami Khairallah, the project’s value chain leader, explained how the project sought to build consumer trust in local olive oil step-by-step by focusing on the production process.

“Value chains are a set of processes from the field to the market,” he explained. “If you take olive oil, for example, it [comes] from the olive orchard, which produces the olives by passing through the harvesting, milling, storing, bottling, labeling, packaging, marketing and selling [stages], until it reaches customers.”

Khairallah said the local industry, worth $ 70 million, would benefit the Lebanese economy greatly, as hefty profits would boost the local market and restore Lebanon’s former regional prominence in the olive oil business.

But the sector has long suffered from negligence and faces numerous challenges, which the LIVCD project seeks to tackle.

“There are lots of challenges that the value chain is facing [forcing a] lot of the rural producers to let go of their production,” Khairallah said.

The ambitious project aims to increase the productivity of olive trees by simultaneously lowering costs, standardizing milling and storage processes and creating incentives for the market to support Lebanese olive oil.

These objectives set by LIVCD would be met with the creation of a seal of quality and origin, to foster product credibility among consumers. Once people realize that the local product they are purchasing is of higher quality and more affordable, consumer trust will be encouraged, according to the project’s rationale.

“Quality is very important for the relationship between producer and consumer,” Remo Ciucciomei, chairman of the Italian Mediterranean Institute of Certification said. Established in 1995, the organization is supporting the Value Chain Project by certifying the locally produced olive oil, so long as they fit set standards.

Food certification might be something new farmers and companies, but remain “a very important concept for the consumer,” Ciucciomei explained.





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