SEO BIRDLIFE

Olivares Vivos – Olive oil reconciles with biodiversity

The LIFE+ project, co-financed by the European Commission and coordinated by SEO/BirdLife, embarks on a five-year journey with the aim of restoring the lost biodiversity of olive groves and designing a production model that enhances profitability. It envisions olive trees coexisting once again with owlets and olive oils harmonizing with life.

The main objective of the LIFE+ Olivares Vivos project is to restore biodiversity in olive groves to boost their profitability. To achieve this, SEO/BirdLife, in collaboration with partners from the University of Jaén, the Provincial Council of Jaén, and the Experimental Station of Arid Zones (EEZA-CSIC), will develop an olive cultivation model over the next five years aimed at rescuing the rich biodiversity of olive groves. Additionally, the project will establish certification mechanisms to guarantee this added value in its oils and devise the best strategy for transforming this value into profitability through the Olivares Vivos assurance brand.

With a total budget of 2.8 million euros co-financed by the European Commission and the project partners, Olivares Vivos is part of the European LIFE+ program and is supported by the Interprofessional Association for Olive Oil and the Olivarero Common Heritage Foundation.

José Eugenio Gutiérrez, delegate of SEO/BirdLife in Andalusia and project coordinator, succinctly articulates the objective of Olivares Vivos: “In recent years, the olive sector has made significant strides in promoting the quality of olive oil and its exceptional health properties. However, we’ve barely scratched the surface of its environmental potential. We’re underutilizing the fact that olive groves are crucial for conserving biodiversity in Europe.”

“The ultimate goal of this project is to restore the lost biodiversity of olive groves and leverage it as a tool to empower olive growers. This is what the European Commission recognized in including Olivares Vivos in the LIFE+ program. It’s a project that aligns the interests of institutions, olive growers—who strive to make their production profitable—and our society, which increasingly prioritizes nature conservation. With Olivares Vivos, we complete this circle,” adds Asunción Ruiz, executive director of SEO/BirdLife.

Loss of biodiversity, potential for recovery

SEO/BirdLife’s monitoring programs indicate a significant decline in bird populations associated with olive groves since the early 1990s. This includes species like finches, such as greenfinches, siskins, and goldfinches, which have experienced declines of up to 80%. Although much of the once-thriving life in olive groves has been lost, restoring biodiversity in most groves won’t be a costly endeavor,” says Pedro Rey, professor of ecology and head of one of the research groups at the University of Jaén participating as project partners. The initiative will focus on 20 demonstration olive groves in Andalusia, selected from numerous applications received, demonstrating the sector’s keen interest in the initiative.

Olivares Vivos proposes restoration actions primarily focused on unproductive areas of olive groves: pathways, boundaries, gullies, or streams, among others. The fact that olive groves are situated in a biodiversity hotspot—the Mediterranean basin—works in our favor when it comes to biodiversity restoration. Additionally, their wooded nature provides stability, and the olive tree, being a native species with a millennia-long history of ecological relationships with Mediterranean flora and fauna, facilitates the restoration of its ecosystem services,” he argues.

Living… and profitable olive groves

Without profitability, there can be no biodiversity. This is the premise behind the project, which aims to establish the Olivares Vivos brand as a niche in the olive oil market. To achieve this, the brand’s certification processes will be scientifically endorsed, and profitability will be ensured through an appropriate commercial strategy and promotional efforts. “A biodiversity guarantee brand is pointless without scientific accreditation,” says Francisco Valera, researcher and head of the EEZA-CSIC partner. “And it’s futile if consumers aren’t fully informed about what lies behind the Olivares Vivos brand,” adds Eva Murgado, specialist in olive oil marketing and markets, and head of another research group at the University of Jaén involved in this LIFE+ project.

Olive tree culture

For Sonia Bermúdez, head of the Provincial Council of Jaén partner, recovering the cultural heritage of olive tree cultivation, with its diversity and multifunctionality, is also a cross-cutting objective of the project. “We firmly believe this is particularly important in the olive grove, a crop with an extraordinary cultural heritage that is significant not only for exploiting the potential of its ecosystemic functions but also from a socio-economic perspective. Hence, the LIFE+ project envisions a series of actions to test new formulas that integrate natural and cultural heritage from a local perspective,” she explains.

Protagonists: olive growers and consumers.

“Olivares Vivos proposes a model that will aid us in the path some olive growers have already taken toward differentiating our olive groves and oils. My grove is organic, and I see Olivares Vivos as an excellent opportunity to enhance and certify my contribution to nature conservation,” says Víctor Jiménez, one of the olive growers participating in the project’s initial phase.

The initiative will also extend to conventional olive groves. “I believe all farmers would welcome more life in our fields. Perhaps we’ve been farming too aggressively. If the proposed olive grove model doesn’t significantly increase production costs and the brand can enhance profitability, I’ll be delighted to see more life in my olive grove,” adds Manolo Arjona, another olive grower from Torredonjimeno interested in Olivares Vivos.

According to project leaders, with olive growers committed to biodiversity and Eurobarometer indicating a growing number of citizens informed and interested in biodiversity conservation in Europe, the only missing piece is for this interest to translate into shopping baskets. Consumer appreciation of the initiative and the extra virgin olive oil produced under Olivares Vivos will be the real measure of success. They have the upper hand.

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CONÓCENOS

La Sociedad Española de Ornitología es la entidad conservacionista decana de España. Desde 1954, sigue teniendo como misión conservar la biodiversidad, con la participación e implicación de la sociedad, siempre con las aves como bandera.

SEO/BirdLife es la representante en España de BirdLife International, una federación que agrupa a las asociaciones dedicadas a la conservación de las aves y sus hábitats en todo el mundo, con representación en más de 100 países y más de 13 millones de socios.

Es el socio coordinador del LIFE Olivares Vivos+.