Olive Oil Prices Hit Record High as Lebanese Currency Slumps
BEIRUT – As Lebanon continues to suffer a devastating economic crisis that has affected almost every aspect of life, people were recently shocked by the unprecedented price of a 16-kilo can of olive oil, which reached about 120 dollars, or about 4.5 million Lebanese. books at the black market rate, equivalent to a month’s salary for many employees in the small Mediterranean country.
During the first week of autumn, families from different Lebanese villages, especially in the south and the Bekaa Valley in the east, come together for the olive picking season. Part of the olive harvest is marinated in glass jars and the other part is taken to the mills to be pressed into olive oil.
The olive tree is a integral part of the culture of many farmers and villagers, olives and olive oil being the basis of many traditional dishes in Lebanon.
However, the price of olive oil has risen gradually since the outbreak of the economic crisis three years ago, so many Lebanese now consider it a luxury item and only buy small quantities. .
Safia Dayoub, a widow who lives with her three children in Barja area, Chouf district, told Al-Monitor: “I bought two boxes of olive oil this year instead of my three usual. My kids paid the $240; my son works in a supermarket and my daughter is an English teacher.
She said: “Olive oil has become very expensive, but it is a staple in our house. We can’t do without it, but we now use very small amounts in our dishes to make our cans last longer.
Dayoub added: “We cannot use vegetable oil in some dishes. Additionally, he also has get expensive because it is imported.
Before the economic collapse and the aftermath deterioration of the local currencya can of olive oil sold for between $80 and $100.
Despite the economic crisis that has hit the country since October 2019, farmers continue to harvest olives, as it is a basic source of income for many.
Ali Hadla, a 46-year-old employee of Electricité du Liban, Lebanon’s public electricity provider, from the town of Labaya in the western Bekaa Valley, told Al-Monitor: “I own 80 olive trees that have produced over a ton of olives this year. I would say this season was acceptable.
He said: “I pickled 108 kilos [238 pounds] of olives and pressed 992 kilos [2,187 pounds]. I gained 203 kilos [447 pounds] of oil, which would make about 12.5 cans.
Hadla explained: “The cost of pressing each box of olives was 300,000 Lebanese pounds [around $8 at the black market rate] this year, while the box itself costs 400,000 Lebanese pounds [about $11 at the black market rate]. We also have the transport costs to and from the mill, not to mention the maintenance costs of the land and the workers who helped me pick the olives. The whole process costs the farmers about 3 million Lebanese pounds [about $81 at the black market rate].”
He noted, “Olives and olive oil are essential in Lebanese cuisine. They are used to make mujadara [cooked lentils], gypsy [flatbread topped with thyme] and even fried eggs. We also heat a small amount of olive oil and use it as an ointment to cure the sick.
He added: “I have my own olive trees, so I manage. But low-wage employees can barely afford to buy olives and olive oil. Even vegetable oil is too expensive these days.
Hadla pointed out, “Prices of olives and olive oil in US dollars haven’t changed much. The exchange rate is the problem here. Last year, the Lebanese pound traded at around 20,000 to the dollar, but it has doubled this year.
Oil mills in Lebanon are very busy after the first rain, and they are forced to increase costs due to the power outageswhich has prompted many people to rely on private generators.
Lebanese farmers use the traditional method of picking olives by shaking the trees or hitting the branches with a stick to make the olives fall – few farmers use modern machinery.