'I am convinced that we will return to the path of growth in production and consumption'

You have recently been appointed executive director of the International Olive Council (IOC), how do you face this challenge?

With enthusiasm and responsibility.

During the last seven years as deputy director of the IOC have had the opportunity to exchange opinions with the main representatives and experts from the different producing regions of the world. I have been able to get to know the sector, and now it is time to take advantage of that experience to lead the only intergovernmental body dedicated to the olive tree, olive oils and table olives.

Moreover, this is the first time that a Spaniard has headed the IOC. As Spain is the leading country in the sector, it is a source of pride, but also a responsibility.

How do you assess the situation of the olive oil sector in the world, given the shortage of raw material that the whole world is suffering?

In my opinion, it is a complex but exciting time. I am convinced that we will return to the path of growth in production and consumption.

On the one hand, the consumption of olive oils, and in particular extra virgin olive oil, has been on a solid growth trend in global terms, which has been interrupted by the last two short harvests. However, it is clear that more and more people want to enjoy life in a healthy and sustainable way and are discovering olive oils. This is happening more intensely in countries far from the Mediterranean region, which has led to an impressive growth in international trade in recent years. This has led to an impressive growth in international trade in recent years, thanks in large part to the efforts of the Spanish sector.

On the other hand, despite new plantings and the amazing modernization of growing practices, we are seeing that production is failing to keep pace with demand. This is the first time we have had two consecutive short world seasons. There is no doubt that we are seeing the consequences of climate change.

What are the IOC's objectives and how do you intend to achieve them during your term of office?

The main objective is to return to the path of growth in production, consumption and international trade. This must be done while maintaining our commitment to quality and sustainability. To do this, the first thing is to face the challenge of climate change.

I have asked IOC members for a permanent line of work focused on sustainability and climate change. On the one hand, we are going to work on crop adaptation to new climate scenarios. We have the genetic resources of international collections and the IOC genebank network, but we also have to take into account soil management, cultivation practices and - especially important - water management.

On the other hand, olive groves are part of the global strategy to combat climate change. Many are unaware that there are more than 11.5 million hectares that function as a domesticated forest that sequesters CO2 from the atmosphere. We want to facilitate the calculation of the carbon balance to promote good practices, improve visibility and communication to consumers, and even facilitate the incorporation of olive groves into the voluntary emissions market.

We will continue to work on the harmonization of olive oil standards, which are essential to facilitate trade and defend consumer rights. More and more countries want to apply the IOC standard, beyond the member countries. In this sense, I will promote the approach to the main consumer countries such as the USA, Brazil, Japan, Australia or China.

We will also continue with the work related to raising awareness of the health benefits of olive oils and table olives, and in the valorization of olive products and co-products.

What should countries do to ensure that production evolves at the same pace as the demands of the olive oil consumer?

We need to improve our knowledge of the behavior of different olive varieties under new temperature and rainfall scenarios. To this end, the IOC is collaborating in various research projects, mainly funded by the EU. The olive tree is a crop with an extraordinary capacity for adaptation, but it is clear that we have to facilitate this process. Water management is key. Countries that want to bet on an increase in olive oil production will have to support it with a strong hydraulic and sustainable irrigation policy.

Are the new super-intensive and irrigated olive plantations the solution to today's market problems?

I don't think there is only one solution. Irrigated and super-intensive olive groves are part of the solution, but so are more resilient modes of production. There are very different production regions, such as, for example, mountain olive groves or those grown where irrigation is not an option.

Finally, how can the Olive Oil World Congress help to promote the development of the sector worldwide?

Bringing together the main international experts and representatives of the sector favors the exchange of opinions, undoubtedly contributing to find solutions and to the development of the sector. The OOWC is also an excellent opportunity to give visibility to the sector and to focus on the contribution of the olive grove to the health of people and the planet. Congratulations on the initiative.