Report blames intensive olive oil production for desertification

Intensive olive oil production has damaged the environment and led to widespread desertification says a new report prepared for the European Commission.


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The report, The Environmental Impact of Olive Oil Production in the EU, was compiled by the NGOs the European Forum for Nature Conservation and Pastoralism and the Association for the Analysis and Reform of Agro-Rural Policy. “The intensified traditional and modern intensive systems…have potentially, and in practice, the greatest negative environmental impacts, particularly in the form of soil erosion…degradation of habitats and landscapes and exploitation of scarce water resources,” the report said.

Olive production covers a vast area in southern EU states, including 9,300 square miles (24,000 sq km) in Spain, 5,400 square miles (14,000 sq km) in Italy, 4,000 square miles (10,000 sq km) in Greece and 2,000 square miles (5,000 sq km) in Portugal. Some olive growing regions, particularly those in southern Spain and Portugal are already experiencing desertification.

The report said that inappropriate weed control and soil management practices, combined with the inherently high risk of erosion in many olive farming areas, is leading to desertification on a wide scale in some of the main producing regions, as well as considerable run-off of soils and agro-chemicals into water bodies. Soil erosion was named as being “probably the most serious environmental problem associated with olive farming”.

The report recommends that the EU’s olive subsidy regime needs to be reformed in order to change farmers’ working practices. “All olive producers receiving support (in the form of subsidies) should be required to comply with locally-established codes of Good Agricultural Practice (GAP) incorporating basic environmental protection, ” it said. A higher level of area payment is recommended for plantations in very environmentally sensitive areas. It also calls for the application of agri-environment programmes to olive farming in order to offer payments to all olive farmers in return for additional environmental services which go beyond GAP.

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