Olive Tree Moved From its Native Home, Syria, to the World

IDLEB, (ST) – Olives trees have been cultivated in Syria for thousands of years. This cultivation is deeply rooted in Mediterranean countries. Researches have demonstrated that the existence of wild olive in many areas is a reality and a concrete guide since old times while the spread of planted olive trees dates back to the fourth thousand BC and then moved to Greece about 2500 BC and reached Italy in the period 200 -700 BC.

Director of the Olive Bureau affiliated to the Ministry of Agriculture in the governorate of Idleb, Dr. Muhannad Malandi, said that researches confirm the existence of olive cultivation in Syria since thousands of years ago in addition to the spread of wild olive and the diversity of cultivated sorts. Dr. Malandi pointed out that the most important characteristic of olive tree is the diversity of genetic resources and their richness that led to the spread of olive cultivation in various areas due to the environmental flexibility that the tree enjoys.

According to Dr. Malandi, olive species, including al Sourani, al Khoudeiri, al Doueibli, al Dan, al Jlot and al Mohazzam, are distributed in Aleppo, Idleb, Lattakia, Tartous, Damascus, Palmyra and Daraa.

"The important features of olive cultivation in Syria are the geographical and environmental positioning of this agriculture that is found on the unirrigated hills and slopes. Olive trees are usually exposed to the sun including more than 250 days a year what earns the fruit and its oil a distinctive taste and flavor." Dr. Malandi said.

"All these assets made from olive cultivation a key option of dry and semi-arid areas, limit migration to the cities as the olive oil and olives and by virtue of the nutritional value and consumption habits constitute a popular widespread food and the main source of nutrition in addition to health benefits. Olive and olive oil are considered one of the food security crops," Dr. Malandi added.

The olive sector has become one of the most important sectors of agricultural production where the olive tree constitute 15 percent of the total cultivated area in Syria and 65 percent of the total area of fruit trees and olive production is valued at about 25 billion Syrian Pounds, according to local prices.

This kind of agriculture contributes to 1.5 – 3.5 of GDP in addition to ensuring job opportunities to many of the population in production, processing, storage, transport and export of olives and olive oil, and contribution to the export and ensuring foreign exchange.

Director of the Olive Bureau expects an increase in olive production in the coming years because of the continued agricultural expansion and the cultivation of other areas and the entry of new trees in the process of production ranging between 2-3 million trees, knowing that the area cultivated with olives in Syria is more than 685 thousand hectares.

The sector has witnessed a contemporary remarkable development, whereas the total number of oil presses is 1092. Every oil press covers 72 374 olive trees and Syria's consumption of olive oil estimated at 110-120 thousand tons, what indicates the existence of a surplus for export, at least up to 65 thousand tons annually.

"This fact has contributed to the transfer of Syria from the stage of importing olive oil in the early nineties to the stage of self-sufficiency and then to export. Export reached its peak in 2007, with total quantities estimated at 40 thousand tons, and in particular that the Syrian olive oil has well attributes in terms of aromatic distinctive smell and desirable taste," Dr. Malandi pointed out.

 "Olive growing and oil industry receive significant support from the government to increase competitiveness globally. Studies, statistics, the development of production and manufacturing suggest a rising desire in this agriculture that helps to provide raw materials. Statistics also indicate to a rising increase in the consumption of olive oil for health reasons and the shift towards olive oil and abandonment of other processed oils for health benefits," Dr. Malandi clarified.

He called for the adoption of a series of services to the olive trees during the month of April notably spring tillage in the interior areas at a depth of 8-10 cm, control disease such as olive wilting and applying the measures of integrated combating.

Raising productivity, improving the quality, reducing the cost of production, product diversification and consolidation of knowledge about the importance of food and the health benefits of olive oil are more necessary than before in order to keep this product on its place among other vegetable oils.

Sharif el -Khatib