The next gold rush
“[…] Life is a business that does not cover the costs […]”
Arthur Schopenhauer, On the Vanity and Suffering of Life
Some readers may object to that saying and claim that life, just like stock markets, is a zero sum game.
Both statements are mathematically and economically not true when it comes to olive picking: The Creator (and/or Mother Nature for the atheists amongst you) does not charge a cost, tax or levy for every rain drop, the process of photosynthesis and every piece of olive picked. The olive fruit tree is maintained at minimal cost with huge benefits during every season.
I trust the reader was not mislead by the title thinking this is a newsletter on renewable energy - this piece will cover the latest available data on the olive season in Jordan.
Having a semi-arid Mediterranean climate, Jordan’s Rift Valley is the ideal fertile home for olive trees. Olive oil production has been active for the past 6,000 years and has not stopped.
There is an estimate of around 18 million olive trees in Jordan, 80% of which are still “active”, and 132 olive oil extraction plants, or “mills”.
Since the 1950s, the production of the average tree has nearly doubled to 15 kgs.
In 2019, around 155 million kgs of olives were picked across the Kingdom and 27 million litres of olive oil produced. On average, 80% of the olive picking goes directly to the mill for processing and 20% are pickled for consumption.
Due to a poor rain season in 2020-2021, the estimated production is said to be much lower.
So far, the municipality of Kerak has been the worst hit1, mainly from multiple heat waves, lower than usual rainfall, and pests (olive fruit fly2). Olive oil production is estimated to drop by 70%. The northern regions3 were not as badly hit but numbers are still coming in as the picking season started later than usual (waiting for that “first rainfall”).
Another by-product of olive oil processing is “Jift”. It is estimated that only 35,0004 tons of jift will be produced this year compared to 43,000 (average of the last 6 years), a drop of 18%.
Jordan is one of the top 10 olive oil producers in the world and is self sufficient in the olive/olive oil category:
Traditional farmers rely on the family to pick the olives. Other farmers rely on hired (foreign) labour.
Some farmers rely only the rain (بعل) while others rely on irrigation.
Some farmers have a biodynamic system to get rid of the olive fruit fly which include birds and other insects. Others use chemical pesticide.
Some farmers grow their olive trees next to other (fruit) trees. Others have a monoculture which is prone to fungal diseases.
At the end of the season, the farmer will have picked many bags of olives. They send their harvest to the nearest olive mill where for each 1 kg of olive pressed, 0.2-0.25 kgs of olive oil is collected. The farmer also gets 0.25 kgs of jift.
Assuming the farmer only has 20 trees in a 1 Dunum plot of land , every year they would expect to collect on average 300 kgs of olives. 20% or 60 kgs of that would be pickled. They would get 60 litres of olive oil worth 340 JODs and 60 kgs of Jift worth 5 JODs. This 1 plot of land is enough to cover the needs for 1 family in terms of food as well as for heating. Any excess production from additional plots of lands will be sold for a profit.
The Minister of Agriculture could look at Tunisia and the policies it implemented in the last decade that made it become one of the biggest net exporters of “green gold”, olive oil.
Another aspect they could focus on is on educating future farmers as well as raising awareness on maximising the uses of olive trees, olive fruits, olive oil and its byproduct “Jift” (mainly for heating).
In celebration of the olive season, I recommend picking up the latest release by Dr. Kamel Abu Jaber with the beautiful cover painting by Sliman Mansour from Books@cafe using this link.