The European project Soil O-Live reminds on World Olive Day that more than 60% of EU olive grove soils are degraded

The European project Soil O-Live, led by the University of Jaén, joins the commemoration of World Olive Day, which is celebrated tomorrow, as every November 26, after its proclamation at the 40th session of the General Conference of UNESCO in 2019. With this initiative, coordinated by UJA professor Antonio Manzaneda, and involving partners from different locations in Europe, the aim is to accurately analyze the state of health of olive grove soils in the Mediterranean region and how it affects the quality of olive oil.

Antonio Manzaneda, Professor of Ecology at the University Institute for Olive and Olive Oil Research of the University of Jaén, reports that currently, it is considered that more than 60% of EU soils are degraded, a percentage that is higher in the particular case of agricultural soils dedicated to olive cultivation. “The lack of a stable vegetation cover, which leaves a large fraction of bare soil, soil compaction, salinization accentuated by irrigation with brackish water, excessive applications of copper and other phytosanitary products, loss of biodiversity, together with erosion, are factors that are degrading olive grove soils throughout the Mediterranean at an unprecedented rate and spatial magnitude,” Manzaneda said. These aspects have been analyzed these days in the European Soil Mission Week held in Madrid, in which the Soil O-Live project has actively participated in several sessions to disseminate the progress of the initiative.

“It is necessary to carry out a very deep and extensive awareness to the sector to highlight the dramatic situation of the health of the soil of the olive grove that puts at risk the future of the crop in many olive-growing areas of Europe,” says the professor.

Soil O-Live aims to create strategies to care for and optimize olive soil health. At the policy level, the results derived from Soil O-Live will be used by the European Union for a better understanding of the soil health of the Mediterranean olive grove and to design more precise agricultural policies in European olive cultivation in relation to environmental sustainability and the quality and safety of olive oils. Indeed, key objectives of Soil O-Live are to analyze the impact of pollution and land degradation on olive soils in terms of multi-biodiversity, to investigate the relationship of soil health status with olive oil quality and safety, and to implement effective soil amendments and ecological restoration practices that promote manifest improvements in soil biodiversity and functionality, among many other purposes.

The project consortium is made up of fifteen academic institutions and two companies from the olive sector. At the national level, in addition to the University of Jaén, which acts as coordinator, the project has the participation of the Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas (CSIC) through three research centers (Estación Experimental del Zaidín, Instituto de Agricultura Sostenible and Estación Experimental Aula Dei) and the University of Castilla La Mancha. At the international level, prestigious institutions such as the University of Roma Tre (Italy), the Free University of Berlin (Germany), the University of Tras-Os-Montes e Alto Douro (Portugal), the University of the Aegean (Greece), the Hellenic University of the Mediterranean (Greece), ELGO-DIMITRA (Greece), the University of Silesia in Katowice (Poland), the University of Palermo (Italy), the Italian National Research Council – Bari (CNR), the National School of Agriculture of Meknes (Morocco) and as an associate partner the University of Bern (Switzerland). Nutesca S.L. and the multinational company DEOLEO GLOBAL S.A., as well as the Spanish Standardization Agency UNE, the JRC of the European Union and the International Olive Council are participating as companies of the sector.