The critical situation of the traditional olive grove compared to modern plantations forces it to be reconverted and to look for alternative sources of income that make it economically viable. One of the great benefits of this type of olive grove is its great capacity to capture and store CO2, which leads us to wonder if it would not be fair for this to be an income for a crop that so badly needs it. Thus begins this opinion article signed by Daniel Millán Martínez, founding partner of the company Elaia Zait.
In recent months, surely, we have read or seen in the news the very delicate situation facing the traditional olive grove, derived, fundamentally, from the appearance of the modern olive grove, much more productive and profitable that, if not, leads It is remedied, to the extinction of the traditional olive grove . For this reason, this type of olive grove is impelled to look for solutions that allow, not only to survive but also to be competitive in an increasingly complex global market. But, there is the paradox that this crop, as we will explain, stands as a relevant factor when it comes to solving some of the most important challenges facing our society today.
The disappearance of the traditional olive grove would be a great detriment that we cannot afford
Countless are the benefits provided by this type of olive grove. However, we want to pay special attention to two of these beneficial contributions that stand out for their relevance in relation to the main problems facing our generation and those to come. The first would lie in its role as a fixer of the population to the territory. In recent times, we have noted with concern how rural environments have been bleeding in terms of population to a situation almost of abandonment. The European Union itself has recognized rural depopulation within the demographic challenge as one of its main priorities along with climate change and digitization. Therefore, the traditional olive grove becomes the main actor in this challenge that we must face.
Second, and no less important, the traditional olive grove has become a critical lung against CO2, the main cause of global warming and which is one of the great challenges facing the planet and humanity. The estimated number of olive trees in the world is not negligible, which amounts to 1,500 million trees, of which 340 million are in Spain. The International Olive Council recognized that a liter of traditional olive oil absorbs 10.65 kg of CO2. This would mean that all the traditional olive groves in Spain would absorb an approximate total of almost 8,000 kilotonnes of CO2. In order for us to understand these figures in context, Spain emits as a country, in its entirety, approximately 260 thousand kilotonnes of this gas. This would mean that the traditional olive grove alone would absorb more than 3% of the country's total emissions.
What would the abandonment and disappearance of the traditional olive grove mean for Spain?
Many may think that if the traditional olive grove is abandoned, the trees would remain. But what would happen if this crop were supplanted by another? Let's not forget that this tree is considered a species of agricultural crop, owned by farmers and, except for olive trees and unique or exceptional olive groves that would be protected, they could theoretically be replaced by another plantation. How much would this disappearance cost us? We are going to propose the hypothesis of the total disappearance of this type of olive grove. In that case, the total cost for the country would amount to more than 413 million euros per year (calculated at current CO2 prices in the market) if we comply with the commitments acquired by our country in the Kyoto and Paris conventions.
This fact, and taking into account the critical situation of the traditional olive grove, makes us reflect: is it fair to abandon a sector that is dying to its fate and not pay together for a common benefit that we could lose if it disappeared?
Obtaining income from the commercialization of CO2 emission rights would be a boost for the conservation of this crop
We are going to try to do a simple exercise to determine in what magnitudes we are moving. According to various studies, including the one mentioned by the IOC, the liter of olive oil produced in the traditional olive grove absorbs 10.65 kg. of C02. However, we cannot ignore the fact that the cultivation and production of this product also emits CO2. It is estimated that the emission of this gas in the agronomic phase amounts to 4.85 kg of CO2 per liter of oil. This would give us a net CO2 absorption per liter of 6.17 kg. of CO2, compared to the net absorption of the modern olive grove, which would amount to 1.24 kg. of CO2. If we converted these data into income for the farmer or producer, we would verify that this type of olive grove in Spain would obtain an extra income of 400 million euros at the national level and that, an impoverished province like Jaén, would obtain more than 130 million euros, almost 1.3% of its GDP. Countries around us, such as Portugal, would obtain a figure close to 210 million euros.
Can income from CO2 rights solve the problem of the traditional olive grove?
In my opinion, the answer is NO. As we have already analyzed in other articles, "Because not all oils are the same: How the traditional olive grove must be differentiated to ensure its survival " and " The traditional olive grove in danger of extinction: How can we avoid a tragedy?", the viability of the traditional olive grove goes through a multiplicity of factors that, surely, would be interesting to address at another time. We could talk about the need for professionalization, concentration of production to improve sales power, optimization of production, valorization of by-products, work on the intangible or hidden values of the crop and its product, and, surely, we can think of many more options to improve the situation and competitiveness of this type of olive grove. In conclusion, from my perspective, the solution involves various variables, including the one we refer to in this article which, in aggregate, could lead to an increase in the competitiveness and profitability of this crop, thus ensuring its subsistence.
It is everyone's responsibility to save the traditional olive grove
I have to admit that I am very suspicious of subsidy policies. In my understanding, and in a general way, industries must be profitable per se or face their disappearance. In the case of the traditional olive grove, I am not proposing an aid, but I am exposing an economic injury that should be compensated. The European Union itself has developed the EU Emissions Trading System (EU ETS) and has approved the EU Emissions Trading Scheme (EU ETS), the world's main carbon market. Where it contemplates that certain industries have a responsibility in the emission of these polluting gases, establishing a market where they can negotiate the rights over their emission. So, would it be unreasonable that other industries such as the traditional olive grove could access the benefits they generate in terms of absorbing these emissions from the atmosphere? Would it be logical to drop an industry like the traditional olive grove for not remunerating it for what it is contributing to the planet, the country and its economy?
In my opinion, these would be some of the reflections that we should make ourselves because, as we have seen, the situation of the traditional olive grove is not just a problem for the sector, but it is everyone's problem. It would be unforgivable to lose the heritage that this crop represents, without fighting.