A new era of olive growing in Molise
A new initiative is underway in Molise to promote local production of organic olive oil and boost oleotourism in the south-central region of Italy.
Surrounded by Campania to the south, Puglia and the Adriatic Sea to the east, and Abruzzo and Lazio to the north and west, Molise is renowned for its natural parks, mountainous terrain and olive groves that dot its landscape. picturesque.
Quality is the best answer to a competitive market. Renewed olive groves and new farms can make a difference.
Public and private entities – including government officials, producers, local agribusinesses, researchers and tourism officials in the region – recently announced the creation of a new Molisan extra virgin olive oil district. .
The objectives of the project are to add value to local olive oil production, restore abandoned groves and attract young farmers to the olive sector.
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Traditional olive growers in Molisan have suffered from increasingly competitive prices on the international olive oil market. Limited yields combined with high production costs have seen local producers outclassed by cheaper imported extra virgin olive oils.
Both conditions are considered the main drivers of the abandonment of olive groves, which leads to other problems. According to the promoters of the initiative, the abandoned olive groves serve as fodder for forest fires, contribute to desertification and become breeding grounds for pests and diseases.
On top of that, local officials said the abandonment of olive groves also leads to increased unemployment and contributes to rural-urban migration, which often means experts and professionals leave the area.
Most producers in Molisan are small or medium-sized farmers whose groves do not frequently exceed two hectares.
A minority of farms produce high-quality extra virgin olive oil that meets the specifications of the PDO Molise (Protected Designation of Origin), a European Union certification guaranteeing provenance and quality.
As in other hilly regions, the overall regional production is considerably exposed to the effect of extreme weather conditions which aggravate the natural cycle of alternating rotation of the olive tree.
In his last report on the olive sector, the Institute of Services for the Agricultural and Food Market (Ismea) reported that Molise produced 2,823 tons of olive oil in the 2020/21 agricultural campaign.
The average production of Molisan over the last four seasons has been estimated at 2,923 tons.
By applying modern sustainable techniques, researching cultivars and expanding the hectares of olive groves, the creators of the district plan to increase local olive oil yields while improving quality.
“Quality is the best answer to a competitive market. Renewed olive groves and new farms can make a difference,” said Luigi Di Majo, president of the Consortium of Tourism, University of Medicine and Landscape and head of the promotion committee for the new district. Olive Oil Times.
“The main objective of the district is to bring 14,000 hectares of olive groves located in Molise back to optimal production and restore the 3,000 to 4,000 hectares that have been abandoned over time,” he added.
According to district officials, producing high-quality olive oil is the only strategy available.
“Most major food retailers buy from a handful of large bottlers who buy huge quantities of produce at the lowest prices available on the market,” they wrote in a memo seen by Olive Oil Times.
“We cannot even think of competing with Spanish and Tunisian producers on this front,” the officials added. “At least not until we completely change our production systems. Instead, we must value the quality and the link of olive oil with the territory, just as we do with wine.
Di Majo added that one of the district’s goals is to plant 10,000 new hectares of olive groves.
“Our goal is to find funds for the new factories and the restructuring of the current groves,” he said. “Public funds should cover 100% of these investments and include promotional activities.
“Still, we need sufficient quantities to launch Molisan extra virgin olive oil in international markets,” Di Majo added.
The developers of the district plan to raise at least 10 million euros in public funding for these objectives.
“We are thinking of new plants with a traditional framework based on our 20 high-quality native olive oil cultivars, which will help us better differentiate the extra virgin olive oil produced throughout the region,” the authors wrote. officials in the memo.
They added that most Molisan extra virgin olive oils today can be differentiated into three main flavor profiles, “which are well known in the world of olive oil. They are a herbal profile, green tomato flavor and berry scented product.
Increased differentiation of local extra virgin olive oils is essential to add value to products. Defining specific operating protocols is one way to achieve this.
Local partners will need to adopt an optimal harvest time for each of the three sensory profiles and select appropriate cultivars for new plants, based on these profiles.
District officials will also help current and new producers convert to organic farming and follow sustainable best practices by keeping an eye on European and national funds, which will be dedicated to the development of the olive oil sector. olive over the next few years.
The district will offer new and existing farmers on-the-ground technical assistance, help them access public funds, optimize the use of water resources, certify the traceability of their extra virgin olive oil using blockchain services and participate in e-commerce opportunities.
District officials also plan to support olive-focused research, expert training courses, marketing strategies and the development of regional olive tourism routes.
“Molise is an ideal place for the production of high quality olive oil,” said Di Majo. “And it has a quite ancient olive-growing tradition that dates back more than 2,000 years, as ancient Roman authors speak of the beautiful olive trees in our region.
“Two hundred years ago, one of the reforms introduced by Joachim Murat was to plant hundreds of olive trees here, as the oil was also used as fuel for lamps,” he added, alluding to the historical and tourist attraction of the olive-growing area of Molise.
According to district officials, hundreds of new job opportunities will be given to existing and new agribusinesses through the development projects.