|Abundant olive oil season leaves merchants at rough end of low prices
|Jordan’s annual production of olive oil is estimated at 32,000 tons. Olive experts believe there are around 15 million olive trees in the Kingdom.
They, however, predict Jordan’s production of olive oil is under threat.
The height of the olive season in Jordan is in autumn, when farmers start to pick their olives and flock to the olive oil extraction plants.
Jordanian families wait for the olive picking season every year to ensure their needs. The average annual individual consumption of olive oil stands at 4.5 kgs.
That roughly means Jordan’s five million people consume about 22.5 million kgs of olive oil every year.
Public demand of olive oil focuses on “the extra virgin olive oil”, the top brand name. Olive oil experts indicate local producers fear competition from foreign imports of olive oil which are inferior. Jordan exports about 10,000 to 15,000 tons of olive oil every season to Arab and regional markets. Last week, the Ministry of Agriculture held a special festival for this season’s production of olive oil at the Al Hussein Agricultural Station, near Baqaa Refugee Camp. The two-day festival aimed at encouraging Jordanians to buy their olive oil needs at reduced prices. Participants were mostly merchants and farmers who own businesses. They came from Amman and the northern governorates, which are famous for their supplies of olives and olive oil. However, an atmosphere of distress was clear among the merchants, who complained their production of olive oil in this season faces low demand because of the over-supply.. They urged the government to give them a hand and open new markets abroad to enable them to export local production.
Merchants are dismayed because of this season’s much produce which means prices have gone down by 25 percent over the last season. A container of oil (16 kgs) is sold between JD 25-30. The price of one container used to stand at around JD 40 in past years.
Merchants complain they are losing much money on manufacturing and packaging.
Each 16-kg container of olive oil costs the merchant about JD 25-26. Thus, this season’s prices means heavy losses for merchants and businessmen. “The Ministry of Agriculture is lacking the ability of making use of Jordan’s abundant production of olive oil for the benefit of its economy,” said Mohammed Al Faouri, director of Public Relations Dept at the MitcoGroup in Amman. “The ministry must take the initiative and organize domestic production of olive oil every year rather than keep it in the hands of those who are incompetent.” Al Faouri’s company is one of the most prominent in the Kingdom. The company, established in 1984, today produces about 3,000 tons of olive oil. MitcoGroup owns more than 4500 dunums of olive trees. Al Faouri said company is selling each container of olive oil at JD 24, which is forcing it to endure heavy losses. “Our farms include 55,000 olive trees that produce a fine quality of olive oil in Jordan and the region,” Al Faouri told The Star.
Most merchants fear failure to sell their production of this season’s olive oil before next spring would double their financial burdens in the long run.
All merchants agree the abundant production this season is subject to supply-and-demand. “Our selling of olive oil was much easier and profitable in previous years,” said Jihad Sweidan, marketing officer at the Olive Tree Food Processing Co. “Public demand for olive oil remained constant over the years. This season’s production faces crisis of over supply and less demand.” Sweidan’s company produced this season around 25 tons of olive oil, which chiefly goes to local markets. Sitting at his stall in the olive oil festival, Sweidan pointed to a bunch of white and dark-yellow soap on the table in front of him. He said these are made of olive oil and free of additives.
Sweidan said his company’s production of olive oil soap started in 1997 and is reputable among Jordanians. Olive oil soap is in good demand in Jordan, especially among the youth and women, especially those with skin disease. “Olive oil soap provides the human body with its needs of minerals, and protects the skin from being chapped in the cold weather.” “I feel like the one in a frying pan,” said Dr Majdi Al Adass, of the Barakat Modern Farms Co. “We produces 3000 containers of the finest quality of olive oil. The company is doing its best to sell these containers before it is too late,” added Al Adass, an agricultural expert.
The Barakat company received the Kingdom’s Quality Award in 2001 for its extra virgin olive oil. “We have been in the business for more than 20 years. This season is one of the hardest in our history,” Al Adass pointed out.
For Ibrahim Saeed, director of the Sales Dept at the Al Baraka Farms, olive oil is only part of his company’s business. “Our company mostly depends on selling fresh dates and fried dates to local and foreign markets,” he told The Star. The company produces around 750 tons of dates, a production line it launched in 1996.
“Dates are much easier to store and to export rather than olive oil,” Saeed said. The company’s main importers are the Arab Gulf states, Lebanon and some of the European countries.
Al Faouri calls on the government to take lessons from this season’s crisis and support the merchants to sustain their businesses for the coming seasons. He urges the government to pursue certain procedures and mechanisms to organize the Kingdom’s seasonal production of olive oil. “There must be an official commission of agricultural experts to control, organize and examine domestic production of olive oil,” he said. “The commission must inspect whether all of Jordan’s production of olive oil is pure.” Al Faouri said there are many merchants deceiving their customers by offering them a mix of olive and corn oil.