HomeEconomySoaring olive oil prices drive vandalism in Mediterranean groves

Soaring olive oil prices drive vandalism in Mediterranean groves


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Greek grower Konstantinos Markou brushes apart the recent development shoots in an olive grove on the outskirts of Athens to uncover the stump of a tree, considered one of about 150 years outdated, he claimed, considered one of 15 that was reduce down on his neighbor’s land by thieves hoping to earn money off of it.

Surging olive oil costs, pushed partially by two years of drought in Spain, has meant alternative for criminals throughout the Mediterranean. Warehouse break-ins, dilution of premium oil with inferior merchandise and falsification of delivery information are rising within the olive-growing heartlands of Greece, Spain and Italy. And maybe worst of all, Gangs use chainsaws to steal closely laden branches and even whole bushes from unguarded groves.

“The olive robbers can sometimes produce more oil than the owners themselves – seriously,” Markou stated earlier than heading off to patrol his personal grove at dusk.

The crimes imply fewer olives for growers already contending with excessive manufacturing prices and local weather change, bringing hotter winters, main flooding and extra intense forest fires. In Italy’s southern Puglia area, growers are pleading with police to type an agriculture division. Greek farmers need to deliver again a rural police division that was phased out in 2010. In Spain, an organization has developed monitoring gadgets that seem like olives to attempt to catch thieves.

The olive groves outdoors Athens are a part of a convention that stretches again to antiquity, on plains surrounding the town’s worldwide airport. Some bushes are centuries outdated.

Most of the thefts are branches. When a complete tree is reduce down, the thieves sometimes reduce it up and cargo the items right into a pickup truck, promoting the wooden to lumber yards or firewood distributors and taking the olives to an oil mill.

“The (robbers) look for heavily loaded branches and they cut them,” stated Neilos Papachristou, who runs an olive mill and close by grove in a fourth-generation household business. “So, not only do they steal our olives, but they cause the tree serious harm. It takes 4-5 years for it to return to normal.”

The thefts drive some growers to reap early, which implies accepting decrease yields to keep away from long-term injury to their bushes. That consists of Christos Bekas, who was among the many farmers at Papachristou’s mill who had been dumping their crops into stainless-steel loading bins, untying sacks and tipping over tall wicker baskets from the again of their pickup vans.

Bekas, who owns 5,000 olive bushes, suffered repeated raids by thieves earlier than deciding to take an early harvest. That has required over 2 1/2 occasions as many olives by weight to provide a kilogram of oil as final yr, he stated.

“And all this after we’ve been spending nights guarding our fields,” he stated. “The situation is appalling.”

After a long time of development, the worldwide olive oil market has been disrupted by a virtually two-year drought in Spain, which usually accounts for about 40% of the world provide. It’s anticipated to shrink world manufacturing to 2.5 million metric tons this crop yr, down from 3.4 million a yr earlier.

Benchmark costs in Spain, Greece and Italy for additional virgin oil reached 9 euros ($4.35 per pound) in September, greater than tripling from their stage in 2019.

That’s translated to increased costs for shoppers. In Greece, a 1-liter bottle of additional virgin oil jumped from $8 to $9 final yr to as a lot as $15 this yr.

Spanish police stated in October they’d retrieved 91 tons of stolen olives in latest weeks. In February, six folks had been arrested in southern Greece for stealing 8 tons of olive oil in a sequence of warehouse break-ins over a number of weeks.

Farmers round Italy’s southwestern port metropolis of Bari say thieves have develop into more and more brazen, snatching tractors and costly tools together with olives.

The regional agricultural affiliation pleaded for police help following studies that 100 olive bushes had been destroyed or significantly broken in a single incident final month. Gennaro Sicolo, the affiliation’s chief, referred to as the financial injury “enormous” and stated “farmers must be protected.”

“This is a felony,” Markou, the Greece grower, stated of the tree-cutting. “You kill your own history here.”

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