It is reported that the fruits of the wild olive tree ( Olea oleaster L.) were used as a food from the Neolithic period (6000-3000 BC) in Cyprus, while abundant archaeological and botanical evidence shows that the olive tree started being intensively cultivated on the island from the Late Bronze Age.
The olive tree and its produce have for centuries played a significant role in the nutrition, economy, religious ceremonies, habits and customs of the Cypriots. In Straboís days Cyprus was rich in olive oil. Areas of production in olden times are still considered important today. Such areas are the slopes of the Kyrenia range and the Kythrea, Solia, Lythrodhondas and Lefkara regions, some coastal chalk plateau areas and Tylleria. A major expansion of olive cultivation occurred in the 30ís but the post-war expansion was phenomenal. Between 1946 and 1958 olive trees increased by 40% and since 1953 the olive tree has become the most numerous non-forest tree in Cyprus.
Cultivation and Production
To-day olive tree is grown in compact groves or, more often, mixed with other crops such as fruit trees, carobs and cereals. It is also found scattered on uncultivated land, steep slopes, rocky ground, or in residential areas. Some 12,000 families are engaged in olive growing.
The total area under olive cultivation is about 7,400 ha with about 2.0-2.5 million productive trees. This represents 5.6% of the countryís cropped area and contributed 2.7% of total agricultural output. Annual average olive production is about 13,500 tonnes, equivalent to 3,500 tonnes of processed olives and 2,500 tonnes of olive oil. However, owing to the biennial bearing of the trees and the cultivation of the olives under rainfed conditions, yields are extremely erratic and olive production exhibits extreme fluctuations from year to year (Table 1).
Production just satisfies local demand for olive oil and during low production periods limited quantities of olive oil need to be imported. In the 1998/99 crop years about 500 tonnes of olive oil were imported at reduced customs duty rates (Table 2). Annual per capita consumption amounts to 3.5 Kg of olive oil and 8 Kg of table olives. Due primarily to the high prices of olive oil, per capita consumption of vegetable oils has been on an upward trend and has reached 15 Kg.
In the past, a large number of old trees (over 90%) were cultivated under rainfed conditions, mixed with carobs or cereals and forage crops; yields were relatively low for comparatively high production costs. Realising the need for higher productivity and lower production costs, from 1976 onwards olive growers started to establish new, intensive olive groves using technologically improved production methods. These intensive groves are established primarily in regions with limited quantities of good quality irrigation water, or in areas where the poor quality of the water due to moderate salinity or high sulphates limits the possibility of economic use for other crops. Certified propagation material produced from selected varieties by the Ministry of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Environment or the private sector is used for these new olive groves.
As regards olive processing, the recent establishment of modern olive oil processing units centrifugal type has simplified the production of olive oil and improved quality; the time required for processing has also been reduced considerably. In contrast, the processing, preservation and post-harvest handling of table olives are still performed in the traditional way in the absence of units equipped with new technology.
Increasingly higher olive oil consumption and the limited marketing prospects of alternative products, such as fruits, provide an additional incentive to farmers to expand olive cultivation.
Recently, olive cultivation in some locations, which are considered ecologically fragile, takes the form of monoculture. Such locations are mainly the hilly and mountainous regions where olive cultivation may prevent devastation as other crops, mainly vines and deciduous fruit trees, are abandoned. Although there is limited room for intensifying production in these areas because a high degree of mechanisation is difficult to apply, olive growing is the alternative for conserving the environment. In 1996, the Government of Cyprus established a 10-year development scheme aiming to provide incentives to farmers to plant about 100 ha of olives per year on marginal land. In addition, a five-year crop restructuring project has been introduced with the aim of replacing less promising crops of deciduous fruit trees with other crops, amongst which olive trees.
The Cyprus Olive Products Marketing Board is responsible for marketing olive products. The Board formulates its policy within the framework of law 24/1968 (basic law), law 23/63 (law on the processing and sale of olive products) and law 133/87 (law to amend the basic law), as well as in accordance with Cyprus standard CYS 82/1985.
The main objectives of the Board are planning and purchasing olive oil and olives of acceptable quality- whatever the quantity -at fixed prices from producers. It protects the producer by playing an active role in fixing the purchase price, taking into consideration the cost of production and the chemical and organoleptic characteristics of the products. It proposes measures to the government to draw up a national policy for the sector. It protects the consumer by making available top quality standardised olive oil at prices fixed by the government, and it takes measures to ensure that adequate quantities of olive oil are available in the country to meet local demand, even when local production is poor.
The board carries out advertising and educational campaigns on the nutritional value of olive products. It inspects olive products and takes samples to ensure that they comply with the provisions of the law. Olive oil purchases by the board have increased significantly in recent years. It makes every possible effort to make sure that all olive oil and olive production is marketed through the Board.
In a bid to improve the quality of olive oil and to strengthen its co-operation with producers, the Board pays a price increase for low acidity olive oil, while prices for other categories (high acidity) remain the same. As a result, olive oil acidity has been going down throughout the island.
The modernisation of presses has helped to raise the oil extraction yield of the olives and to produce better quality olive oil. Nowadays, presses as a whole are operated properly and efficiently, which is why olive oil acidity is lower.
The main variety cultivated is the "Local" variety, but since 1971 a number of new varieties of olives for both table and oil production have been introduced. These varieties are Koroneiki, Manzanillo, Piqual and Kalamon. The introduction of new varieties aimed to find more productive varieties with better quality fruit more suitable for processing than the "Local" variety. The varieties are propagated by cuttings and distributed to farmers by government and private nurseries. Although some are more productive, the local farmers prefer to grow the "Local" variety, which has a medium-sized fruit, is dual-purpose and appeals to the taste of Cypriots. It is well adapted to the climatic conditions of Cyprus and is very resistant to drought. Its yield is relatively low although there are clones that bear high yields with good quality fruit and other desirable characteristics.
Clonal Selection of "Local" variety
The objectives of this work are to identify and select clones with desirable characteristics from the "Local" variety. Such characteristics are not only productivity but also the characters that favour adaptation to local conditions, resistance to or tolerance of biotic and abiotic factors, suitability for the processing industry and adaptability to the preferences of consumers. During the exploration and identification of the plant material of the "Local" variety thirty-one clones were selected with desirable fruit and cropping characteristics. Out of these clones the "Kiti", "Kato Drys", "K. Drys 1" and "Klirou 2" seem to be very promising in terms of fruit size, percentage of fruit flesh, yield and oil content.
Conservation, Characterization, Collection and Utilization of Genetic Resources in Olive
This is a European Community - International Olive Oil Council project in which ten countries are participated. The objectives of this project are:
To know how many cultivars (cultivated varieties) make up the olive genetic resources in the project member countries.
In each area and country to complete the primary and secondary characterization of the different cultivars already introduced in the present collections.
To conserve all the olive cultivars in core, national and international collections.
To record the primary descriptors of the still unknown cultivars.
The benefits of the project are:
The olive biodiversity brought about by centuries of growers/nature interaction will be documented, published and diffused through Internet.
The secondary characterization of the species will provide the scientific community with reliable information on how the cultivars may be classified as per several important agronomic characteristics: productivity, adaptation to soil and climatic conditions, resistance or tolerance to some few diseases. This information will be of great value for both breeding and varietal selection work.
The varieties that will be selected or obtained from the present ones will allows for further emphasizing the olive as a sustainable crop in the current growing areas, either marginal or appropriate, thus increasing job demand in rural areas, both in the agriculture, industry and service sectors.
As a consequence, erosion and desertification will be diminished in areas where social development is strongly based on almost only olive growing, thus keeping rural populations on their lands.
The genetic variability not yet lost that has been determined by man selecting the more promising trees among those produced by natural (sexual) propagation will be saved for future generations thus stopping genetic erosion, which is a high risk everywhere in the Mediterranean Basin.
A general major benefit will be the implentation of a good cooperation system, able to know, identify, save and study the olive genetic resources of almost the whole Mediterranean Basin.
Irrigation Efficient Use of the Limited Water Resources in Cyprus
In Cyprus, due to the low rainfall (300-400 mm) the development of the olive trees without irrigation was very slow and their yield fluctuated strongly form year to year. In the last twenty years new olive varieties have been introduced which are grown under irrigation. Mainly minisprinkler and drip is used for water application.
The olive tree is known to tolerate water-stress but prolonged drought adversely affects yield. Studies on irrigation scheduling indicate that the water requirement of fully grown olives corresponds to about 0.3-0.5 of pan evaporation and that adequate water supply during the active growth periods tends to reduce alternate bearing. Olive is also among the most tolerant fruit crops of salinity.
Research work was carried out with the aim to determine the water requirement of olives irrigated with saline water and to test the effect of different amounts of irrigation water on tree growth and yield of olive trees (cultivar Koroneiki). Irrigation with 400 to 450 mm of water, corresponding to 0.35 of pan evaporation, proved sufficient. When the irrigation requirement was fully met, daily evapotranspiration ranged from 1.0 to 1.5 mm at the beginning and at the end of the irrigation season to 2.5 to 3.0 mm during summer. Under-irrigation increased soil salinity and resulted in soil water deficit which reduced tree growth and production. The application of irrigation water in excess of the crop requirement, intended for leaching, was not essential.
Use of By-products
Crude olive cake, or olive pomace as it is also known, is a by-product of the olive oil industry that is produced in appreciable quantities in most Mediterranean countries. Despite its high oil content (around 10%) and the scarcity of animal feedstuffs in the region, the by-product is not fully utilised and/or when used is not utilised properly. At the Cyprus Agricultural Research Institute the ensiling technique has been used to preserve this high oil and moisture content by-product.
A simple, safe, low cost in farm technique has been developed for long storage of crude olive cake (50% DM) and subsequent feeding to different classes of ruminant animals. Combining crude olive cake with poultry litter and/or other ingredients improves silage quality although it is not a prerequisite. When fed as part of the finished diet to moderately growing ewe lambs and goat kids or to dry mature ewes at maintenance level, the nutritional value of ensiled crude olive cake is significantly higher than that obtained in vitro. The use of urea solution for upgrading the nutritional value of crude olive cake is of very limited value.
Ensiled crude olive cake can be used in urea blocks manufacturing, and because of its binding properties, crude olive cake incorporation into urea blocks may facilitate the use of smaller quantities of binders even without molasses. Despite the high palatability of the ensiled crude olive cake, care should be taken that its inclusion is restricted to a level where the oil content of the total diet is below 5%.
Accession in European Union
In 1990 Cyprus applied to become a full member of European Union. Therefore, the government of Cyprus started planning for the practical implementation of EU requirements in the olive and olive oil sector. The main restructuring measures are:
The monopoly of the Cyprus Olive Products Marketing Board (SEKEP) will be abolished in due time before accession. It is important to note in this connection that SEKEPís monopoly powers are limited by law to domestically produced olives and olive oil and, consequently, private companies are free to engage in the import/export business. SEKEP is gradually relaxing the implementation of certain rules as regards marketing of domestic olive oil too, allowing private companies to engage in direct trade with producers whenever they can offer higher prices than those fixed by SEKEP.
An initial study commissioned by SEKEP, recommended that it be transformed into a Producer Organisation or Association of country-wide coverage to undertake relevant functions under the common market organisation of olive oil. It is planned to have this transformation completed by 2002.
The administrative arrangements for the payment of support to producers and for managing the private storage scheme will be integrated into the Department of Agriculture which is also expected to play a control role for the establishment of the Paying Agency.
The determination of eligible quantities and the procedure for fixing yields of olives and olive oil is scheduled to commence on a trial basis in 2001 with a view to establish a database of eligible quantities for three consecutive marketing years (2000/01 to 2002/03).
The Department of Agriculture initiated work for setting-up a register of olive cultivation. Basic data are currently being collected to establish a preliminary database using an in-house computer application. As regards the geographical information system, it is planned to invite consultants in 2001 to identify and analyse the necessary software systems, following which another mission will be invited to write up the proposed software.