Idlib governorate is facing massive challenges in exporting its olive and olive oil products, as the governorate of the Syrian regime complicates further the procedures having to do with the entry of these products to its control areas, as they are considered lacking of conformity.
This situation is governed by the political and the economic status; however, though the reasons might differ, Idlib governorate and the rural parts of Aleppo controlled by the Syrian opposition, which are also the major producers of olive and its oil, are suffering a dilemma in relation to finding markets for their products.
80 Tons of Olive Oil Confiscated
The Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA) said that the Domestic Trade and Consumer Protection Directorate in Latakia has confiscated a massive amount of olive oil, for they did not have the specifications’ documents upon entering the governorate in north-western Syria.
The agency has quoted Ahmad Najim, the director of the Domestic Trade and Consumer Protection Directorate, as saying that the Directorate continuingly tests olive oil samples in the market and the pressers, in addition to the products coming from “nearby governorates.”
The governmental newspaper Tishreen has on November 8th said that the patrols conducted by the Domestic Trade and Consumer Protection Directorate has seized olive oil filled in tins in a cargo vehicle, containing 2800 tins, without specifications, coming from Idlib governorate.
According to Tishreen, the tins confiscated amount to about 8 tons of olive oil.
The official media addressing the confiscation of the olive oil amounts, most of which is from the governorate of Idlib, raises the following question: Is the government of the Syrian regime fighting the olive oil produced in Idlib governorate, or is it adhering to the quality standards of production imposed by the Consumer Protection?
A Big Offer Met with Little Demand
At a time where the olive cultivated in the areas held by the opposition consists the principal percentage of the Syrian production, the market is limited and fails to take in all the production for sale, in addition to the almost impossible option of exporting it.
In an interview with Enab Baladi, the Deputy Minister of Economy of the “Syrian Interim Government” Abdul Hakim al-Masri said that, in the liberated areas, there are about 80 million olive trees, the production of which, olive and oil, “massively” exceeds consumption.
According to al-Masri, the price of the olive oil tin in Northern Syria is 14/16 thousand Syrian pounds, which is less than the production’s costs. This forces the farmers to send amounts to the Syrian regime-controlled areas for sale, while olive and its products are not exported to Turkey.
Al-Masri believes that the problem lies in the big offer and the inability at selling the products, which has a negative impact on the prices that are less than the production cost today.
This year’s production in Northern Syria, rural Aleppo and Idlib governorate, is 450 to 500 thousand tons, according to al-Masri, in addition to about 90 thousand tons of olive oil.
Oli Tests and Specifications: Idlib Has No Specialized Laboratory
The regime’s government’s allegation for the confiscation of the oil brought from Idlib governorate is that it does not conform to standards or that the oil tins lack the description documents that are usually attached to the tins.
In an interview with Enab Baladi, the owner of “al-Qasas” presser, Idlib governorate, on the condition of anonymity, said that olive oil goes through a multistage of tests. The preliminary analysis of the oil addresses the acid levels in the product, which is a prerequisite to define the quality of olive oil, for the less acid it contains the better the oil is.
Then other tests follow, relating to cheating and peroxide analysis, the levels of which should not exceed 18% under the international standards of export.
The peroxide levels decrease when olive is exposed to rain once or twice. However, and “unfortunately,” many of the farmers harvest olive prior to the rain season which increases the peroxide levels, making it impossible to export the product, according to the presser’s owner.
According to the owner, the “rancidity” testing (enzymatic degradation) is also one of the important tests which olive oil is exposed to. This type of tests fathoms the activity of the “lipase” enzyme, which enhances the oil’s acidity and affects its taste.
This enzyme becomes active due to factors relating to the olives falling from the trees or being left for a long time on the trees, though it is the time to collect them, in addition to the harvest’s being attacked by infestation or being stored in thick layers, which raises the temperature of the olives thus triggering the enzyme.
He added that there are other factors which lead to the degradation of the olive oil’s quality, including ones that enhance oils’ oxidization, especially in olive oil, such as oxygen, tempter, light and minerals, pointing out that Idlib governorate used to have a specialized laboratory, but it was rendered out of service.
This year, the olive harvest was attacked by the olive fruit fly, which causes the olives to fall from the trees and increases the acid levels in them, which is unlike Idlib governorate’s oil, famous for the low levels of oil acids favored for exportation.
Idlib and Afrin’s Olive
The latest statistics about the amount of olive cultivated in the areas of Northern Syria date back to 2016/2017, for the space planted with olive trees in Idlib governorate is 128554 thousand hectares, the total number of trees planted is 14.686 million trees, of which 13.232 million trees are fruitful, according to what the Director of the Olive Office of the Ministry of Agriculture and Agricultural Reform, Mohammad Habo, has told the Russian news agency Sputnik on November 21, 2017.
According to Habo, the space planted with olive trees in 2017 is 690744 hectares through the agricultural lands in Syria, while the whole number of the olive trees reached 693.103 million trees, 160.84 million trees of which are fruitful.
Habo said that the farmers in Idlib governorate press olives in modern pressers, for the number of the olive pressers in Idlib governorate has reached about 118 pressers in 2014, located in different parts throughout the governorate.
In Afrin, the olive trees cover the majority of the agricultural lands, for this agriculture ranks the first in the area, in terms of the space it covers and the production, becoming one of the people’s main sources of living.
According to the “Self-Management,” which controlled the area prior to 2018, statistics, there are about 18 million trees, while the oil production is about 270 thousand tons during the fruitful years.
Afrin’s olive has a great value in the local markets and the neighboring countries. In the area, there are 250 olive oil pressers and laurel soap factories and workshops.
No Markets in the Foreseeable Future
Despite the unprecedented density of population in Northern Syria, due to the war’s circumstances, the area fails to afford the burden of selling hundreds of thousands of tons of olive and its products, which ends with loss, on part of the farmers first of all.
Abdul Hakim al-Masri, the deputy Minister of Economy of the Syrian Interim Government, said that there are constant attempts at protecting the production and preserving this agriculture, but no results have been arrived at yet. The current selling methods depend on the area’s consumption and supplying small amounts, keeping the surplus unmarketed for sale.
Al-Masri pointed out that industries in Northern Syria are “very limited” for the lack of the suitable investment environment, since the investors are still afraid as a result of the area’s instability and the ambiguous future of the security situation, in addition to the fact that the open borders with Turkey and the ability at importing all goods from there for competitive prices means that the creation of an industrial climate alone would not be enough to challenge the quality and the prices of imported commodities.
Today, the Interim Government is searching for means to protect the local products and producers, and the Ministry of Finance and Economy conducted a workshop titled “The Protection of Local Products” on Wednesday, November 11th, in Azaz, western rural Aleppo.
Thus, the destiny of the olive products in Idlib and the rural parts of Aleppo is dependent on the security status and the surrounding politics, awaiting the alternative solutions that the upcoming days would propose, as to guarantee the presence of these products and that they compete in the Syrian and regional market.