Olive crushing units are booming and causing environmental problems

At the height of the olive crushing season in the region of Béni Mellal-Khénifra, where olive growing is one of the main agricultural sectors, the oil mills are experiencing a significant increase in their activities, despite the health situation which affects a large number of economic sectors. The crushing season boosts employment and helps to improve the living conditions of the local farmers, who cultivate an area of about 30,300 hectares planted with olives, which is a boon for the 2,000 crushing units installed in the region.

This activity enables the Béni Mellal-Khénifra region to contribute 17% of the national olive oil production. The crushing season is, therefore, one of the main periods of the year favouring the creation of wealth and socio-economic development.

Since the deployment of the Green Morocco Plan, this activity has undergone important transformations, through the extension of the planted area and the introduction of new varieties of olives, in addition to the restructuring of the crushing units and the valorisation of the olive oil of the region.
As a result of these efforts, the quality of the region’s olive oil has significantly improved, thus favouring the development of the olive-growing activity. The Moroccan variety of picholine remains the most exploited in the region with 85% of the total area planted, followed by two other varieties, Menara and Haouzia, with 10%, while the Spanish variety arbequina accounts for 5% of the area planted.

The period of olive oil extraction in the region also creates an important commercial dynamic at local and national level, as many consumers, retailers and exporters of olive oil come to the region to acquire this oil, which is renowned for its exceptional quality.

In order to encourage the crushing activity, the Regional Directorate of Agriculture (DRA) has worked, within the framework of the Regional Agricultural Plan which results from the strategy of the Green Morocco Plan, on the creation, recently, of 12 virgin olive oil production units with a capacity of 740 tons per day, which has enabled to boost the export of extra virgin olive oil in recent years.
The DRA has also contributed, in close collaboration with the Regional Office for Agricultural Development, to the implementation of an ambitious programme aimed at rehabilitating the olive oil crushing units and the production units of table olives, in order to enhance the value of the harvest and to preserve both the health safety of the consumer and the environment, in coordination with the National Office for Food Safety.
These operations have led to the granting of sanitary licences to about 140 olive oil crushing units and 5 packaging units, allowing the olive product of the region to raise the colours of Morocco during several international events, notably in France, Germany and the United Arab Emirates. They have also enabled the region to win 5 medals, including two gold ones, on the fringe of the 11th edition of the International Agricultural Show in Morocco. The region’s
crushing units have also benefited from several projects as part of the “Generation Green 2020-2030” strategy, which includes a series of projects aimed at enhancing the value of olive oil from the region’s olive cooperatives, at a time when the Béni Mellal-Khénifra region expects the olive harvest for this season to reach a total of 250,000 tonnes, a 25% increase over the 2019-2020 agricultural season.
However, and with the increase in the number of oil mills established in the Oum Er-Rbia basin, the environmental problems linked to the anarchic evacuation of water gardens in the natural environment have increased, as well as the risk of pollution of the water table, rivers and dams, which can lead to the extinction of certain animal and plant species due to the deterioration of water quality.
The waste waters of the olive industry (margines) coming from more than 2,000 olive oil crushing units in the region of Beni Mellal-Khenifra constitute a real danger for the environment and a major source of pollution of water resources. The exploitation of these 2.000 olive oil trituration units generates nearly 300.000 tons of olive oil at the level of the basin of Oum Er-Rbia. This liquid effluent from the oil extraction process ends up partly in nature or in the waste water network, as only 77% of these oil mills have storage and evaporation basins for the vegetable oils.

The anarchic discharge of the oil from the oil mills leads to the pollution of agricultural land, watercourses and hydrographic basins. This is why the Oum Er-Rbia Hydraulic Basin Agency has re-examined the Master Plan for the fight against pollution from oil mill residues and recommended a series of measures, including the implementation by crushing units of watertight storage and evaporation basins with a maximum depth of one metre. It also recommended the rehabilitation of existing basins to increase their efficiency and the adoption by oil mills of a two-stage ecological production system, less hydrovore and which considerably reduces the quantity of emitted margines and improves productivity and quality.

The Oum Er-Rbia Hydraulic Basin Agency has also taken care in this context to conclude partnership agreements with a large number of stakeholders for the establishment of treatment plants for the margines. 

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