Preserve the olive groves, a profitable effort

The olive grove is a crop of great economic and ecological importance in Spain and in Europe. In our country it constitutes the largest permanent crop, with more than 2.5 million hectares.

In addition to its economic and ecological importance, the olive grove is a very valuable agroecosystem for biodiversity since it is distributed around the Mediterranean basin, one of the hot spots of global biodiversity, thus housing a rich flora and fauna.

The agricultural intensification and the increase of the cultivated area with olive groves, largely with new very dense plantation frameworks, both derived from the productive policy of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), have ended up generating an economic crisis of the traditional olive grove. This productivist strategy also generated a great loss of biodiversity and degradation of its ecosystem services.

The result has been a simplified agrosystem to the maximum where the associated biodiversity is well below its possibilities and with problems as worrisome as erosion.

More homogeneous and less green landscapes

Although olive groves are still an important refuge for Mediterranean flora and fauna, very diverse situations can be found, with olive groves rich in biodiversity and other very impoverished. In general, the elimination of green roofs and the homogenization of the surrounding landscape negatively affect the biodiversity of olive groves.

Faced with this crisis, agriculture models are required that aim, and not as a consequence, to stop the loss of biodiversity while ensuring the profitability of the crop. This is what the LIFE Olivares Vivos (OOVV) project pursues, which links the recovery of biodiversity with the improvement of the profitability of olive groves through a scientifically based certification that makes the added value of this biodiversity recovery in the market. The project aims to:
  • Design an olive growing model that recovers biodiversity.
  • Establish a certification system with a scientific base that supports it.
  • Transfer the value of the certification to the market through a guarantee mark (OOVV) for your extra virgin olive oils.
  • Establish the best commercial strategy to provide the recognized and profitable added value guarantee brand in the oil market.

Is biodiversity profitable for the farmer?

Biodiversity provides important direct ecosystem services in the olive grove, such as erosion control and increased soil fertility, better water use and biological pest control. It also provides other indirect benefits, such as the increase of pollinating insects or the natural restoration of the landscape through the dispersal of seeds made by frugivorous birds and which ends up resulting in the biodiversity of the crop itself. All this means a lower expense of inputs.

In addition, commercial differentiation strategies are an alternative to profitability compared to those focused on maximizing production, and social and environmental added values ​​represent an important asset in those strategies. Consumers give increasing importance to the values ​​related to the preservation of the environment, the natural origin of the products, that are healthy or that conserve biodiversity.

Finally, farms that opt ​​for an environmental quality certification, such as the promotion of biodiversity, will be better positioned in the face of the growing environmental demand of the CAP.

Is it expensive to recover biodiversity in the olive grove?

Recovering biodiversity requires recovering herbaceous decks, introducing heterogeneity by restoring unproductive areas within and between crops, and installing green infrastructure such as ponds and nesting boxes for birds, bats and insects.

The type and intensity of the actions necessary to recover biodiversity will depend on the state of the plant cover on the farm and the landscape context in which it is located. But, in general, the OOVV model has a limited impact on production costs since its interference in agricultural activities is very limited.

In addition, the amortization period of these measures is very long, their positive effects increase over time and maintenance costs are very low.

Farmers who opt for this model will obtain benefits derived from the value of the OOVV guarantee mark in the market, from an increase and stabilization of the sale price of the oil (as in other certifications that guarantee an added value), from the improvement in the variety and quality of the ecosystem services and a better positioning of the farms in the face of the current and future agro-environmental requirements of the CAP.

In short, farmers must be interested in recovering biodiversity in their crops, since working for nature is more profitable than doing it against it.