Abdellatif Ghedira / Executive Director of the International Olive Council
A. Rubio. 02/02/2017
He has developed his career focusing on agriculture and, in particular, on olive trees. The former head of office of Tunisia’s Minister of Agriculture, Abdellatif Ghedira, is currently the executive director of the International Olive Council (IOC).
How important are olive trees for the OIC to exist?
The OIC was created in 1958, when the main olive oil producers, fundamentally those of the Mediterranean Basin, decided to come together to defend their products. Then others came: Argentina, Chile, Australia…, and even Japan. Although they are not members of the OIC, they are producers.
When a sector is important for several countries, there must be a common policy regulating their market, promoting the product and facilitating the exchange of information. I cannot imagine this sector without the OIC.
Importing countries will now become members, will not they?
We manage an international agreement, backed by the United Nations, which defines our objectives every ten years. The Fifth Agreement, which came into force on 1 January, is the first one allowing consumer countries to join the Council, since they also want to give their opinion and interact. That is interesting for producers because consumers are their target.
Does the fact that the OIC headquarters are in Madrid show the importance of Spain in the sector?
Spain produces more than half of the world’s oil and olives. It is the first absolute producer and it is in the vanguard of the sector’s development. That is the reason why it offered to have the headquarters and all members accepted.
Is it better to sell in bulk or in bottles?
Obviously, selling bottled oil has an added value. But it also involves more risks than selling in bulk. In bottles, oil needs to be stored, we have to assume financial risks and face a strong competition.
The brand is fundamental to sell, I guess.
Of course, it takes a great work of marketing to sell in bottles. What is important is to understand the olive tree sector as a global industry. The US is the biggest importing market, it consumes more than 10% of the world production and that number increases annually. They used to import bottles and now they start bottling. But where the bottle is made does not matter. What we want, as an organization, are good conditions for farmers and quality oil for consumers.
Do we currently have the best quality olive oil?
Thanks to new technologies, a very high quality olive oil is being produced at the moment. But there are also risks. Olive trees start being affected by the climate change.
I thought it was a hardy tree.
It is, but it has its own pace and changes affect it. In the past, if a country produced less, there was a bigger harvest in another one. There was balance. Now there is not. It is a clear consequence of the climate change, which is a human attack, the same as the Xylella Fastidiosa, which comes from non-producing countries.
Does that affect production?
In the last five years, production varies more than 20% from harvest to harvest. The market does not know the amount or the price. It is one of our biggest concerns. We have to reduce the climate change’s effects on olive trees.
Besides, olive trees preserve the environment.
Our studies prove that, as well as to health, olive trees are beneficial to the environment. An olive tree can absorb the CO2 produced by ten litres of petrol from a car. It is very important for the future of humanity, as the COP22 pointed out in Marrakech.
What projects do you have for the future?
Using technology to improve the amount and, especially, the quality of the production. Olive oil is only 4% of the fat in the world. However, the world demand increases and we are concerned about prices rising and consumption falling in traditional countries.
We are conducting a study on tastes and habits of consumers all over the world. We are going to create the Olive Oil World Observatory to be a documentation and statistics centre that deals with all its facets: legal, economic, commercial, cultural and historical.