EU olive subsidies driving Mediterranean to ruin

Posted on June, 18 2001

Desertification, habitat loss and soil erosion in Spain, Italy, Portugal and Greece are caused by European Union farming subisides that drive the intensification and expansion of olive farming says a new report launched today (18 June) by WWF and BirdLife International.
Brussels, Belgium: A new report launched today by WWF and BirdLife International, EU policies for olive farming - unsustainable on all counts, reveals: • Intensive olive cultivation is degrading the soil across the Mediterranean region: up to 80 million tonnes of topsoil is lost every year from olive plantations in the Spanish region of Andalucia alone. The Guadalén reservoir in Jaen, Andalucia, has been silted up due to soil run off from olive plantations. • Irrigated olive plantations are expanding in areas with serious water shortages, including Crete, Puglia (Italy), and Andalucia. In 1997 the Jaen area (within the Guadalquivir river basin) had a 480 million m3 water deficit, it is estimated that some 300 million m3 was consumed irrigating olive farms. • Natural habitats and ancient groves are being cleared for new intensive plantations in Greece, Spain and Portugal. Fifty cases of forest clearance for new olive plantations were documented in Cordoba, Spain during the 1990s. Almost the whole 2,250 million euro EU Common Agricultural Policy budget for olives is spent on production subsidies - paying farmers according to the amount of olives they produce - a policy that encourages intensification of production, irrigation and the expansion of olive growing. "Intensive olive farming is a major cause of one of the biggest environmental problems facing Europe today" said Elizabeth Guttenstein, WWF's European Agriculture Policy Officer. "Olive farming could be a model for environmentally and socially sustainable land use in the Mediterranean region. Instead EU subsidies for olive farming are driving the Mediterranean environment to ruin." Agriculture Ministers agreed in 1998 on the need for reform of the olive sector and established an interim subsidy regime intended to run until November 2001. Tomorrow (19 June) EU Agriculture Ministers meeting in Luxembourg will consider a proposal by the European Commission to extend the interim regime until 2003, postponing yet again the necessary reform. Worse still Portugal, Spain, Italy and Greece will ask Agriculture Ministers to delay reform for five years. Ironically, this proposal was tabled at the last Agriculture Ministers meeting after which Portugal put forward a much heralded plan to reform EU farming subsidies. "WWF and BirdLife International urge Agriculture Ministers to reject delay and to take a firm decision now to reform the olive regime" said Giovanna Pisano Agriculture Policy Officer of Birdlife International. "Payments that reward intensive production should be abolished and replaced with flat rate payments for area of land cultivated - removing the incentive to irrigate land and intensify production." Italy, Spain, Portugal and Greece produce 80 per cent of the world's olive oil. For further information Julian Scola Press Officer, WWF European Policy Office Tel: +32 2 743 8806 E-mail:

Related links