Women harvest olives in fields in northern Morocco (Al Jazeera)

Rabat – Holding a long, thin stick in her hands and beating the branches of a distant olive tree to fall on a floor furnished with a plastic rug, the Moroccan "Rahma Elibzar" pauses momentarily before resuming work as the unusual November sun blows her face, and on the other side her companion Sharifa plucks olives with her hands from the low branches.

Rahma's family, like the rest of the village, started harvesting olives three weeks ago, carrying bottles of water and some food and continuing to work from sunrise to sunset.

She tells Al Jazeera Net that the farmers were optimistic about the rain at the beginning of last October, but the sky has since been locked and the temperature rose in November uncharacteristically at this time of the year, which affected the olive crop.

Continuous harvesting

Along the road leading to the community of Azghira in the Ouazzane region of northern Morocco, Al Jazeera Net monitored the process of harvesting the olive crop, where women are scattered around the trees busy working hard and enthusiastically, while the smells of olive oil emanate from the presses scattered on the sides of the roads.

In this region, women are responsible for harvesting olives, as they work in the fields to harvest them and at home to sort and pickle them, while the task of men is limited to transporting the crop to the press and supervising its conversion into oil.

Rahma wakes up early in the morning to go to the field and spends the day working with family members and two workers whose daily wage is 2.5 buckets of olives.

After harvesting the olives from the tree, the women collaborate to collect them from the ground and remove the leaves before putting them in a bag to take home in the evening with the rest of the crop.

Stop working honest from work, and says to the island net "The drought has affected the crop, the rain is necessary to ripen the olives and grow grains and give more oil."

"This tree has only given us half the harvest we used to get from it in years past," she says.

The women return to work, remembering the old days and unanimously describing them as days of goodness, prosperity and blessing compared to these days.

"Everything has changed, the temperature is unusually high in autumn, drought and lack of water have changed the lives of farmers and threatened their land and crops," says Rahma with a sigh of nostalgia.

Rugs were laid on the ground where olives fall on them in Moroccan fields (Al Jazeera)

Significant reduction in production

The Ministry of Agriculture expects this year's olive production to be about 1.07 million tonnes, the same level as the previous season, and is 44% lower than the fall 2021 production of 1.9 million tonnes.

63% of the projected production is concentrated in the regions of Fez-Meknes, the East and Tangier-Tetouan-Al Hoceima, while the regions of Rabat-Salé-Kenitra, Draa-Tafilalet and Tangier-Tetouan-Al Hoceima are witnessing an increase in production by 39% and 14%, respectively, compared to autumn 2022.

Production was mainly affected in the Marrakech-Safi, Sharq and Beni Mellal-Khenifra regions, where they declined by 42%, 17% and 10% respectively.

Regarding prices, the Moroccan Ministry of Agriculture reveals that the expected production of olives based on current prices will achieve transactions estimated at 7.4 billion dirhams (about $734), an increase of 10% compared to last year.

Rachid Benali, president of the Moroccan Professional Olive Federation, attributes the drop in production mainly to rising temperatures and a continuing drought.

He says to Al Jazeera Net, "We live a very difficult season for the farmer, consumer and factory because of the difficult climatic conditions of lack of rain and excessive heat."

The spokesman pointed out that the heat witnessed in the Kingdom last April - the period of flowering of olive trees - greatly affected production, which has dropped dramatically, as he put it.

The drop in production was reflected in olive oil prices, which have risen in such a way that consumers are reluctant to buy their needs at the beginning of the season while waiting for the outcome of the coming weeks.

Benali also said that the lack of production and high prices made professionals write to the Minister of Agriculture demanding that exports be banned, except for some products such as canned olives, which account for only about 100,<> tonnes of production.

The Ministry of Agriculture responded to the professionals' request and decided to subject olive exports to licensing, a measure that will remain in place until December 31, 2024.

The Ministry of Agriculture explained in a statement that this decision aims to enhance the value of national production locally, ensure the normal and regular supply of the Moroccan market, stabilize consumer prices at normal levels, and contribute to the food security of citizens.

According to Rachid Benali, the price of a liter of olive oil currently ranges between 80 and 85 dirhams (between 8 and 8.5 dollars), an increase of 10 dirhams (about one dollar) from last year, and he expects prices to decline in the coming weeks as the harvest continues and the export ban comes into effect.

Women use a long, thin stick to harvest olives from high branches in Morocco fields (Al Jazeera)

Oil is a base material

Olive oil is a staple in the Moroccan table, as many families are keen to buy their annual necessities during the harvest season, whether in the form of ready-made oil or by heading to the valleys to buy olives and supervise their milling in the presses.

The Moroccan citizen consumes 4.4 liters of olive oil annually, according to the statistics of the International Olive Council for the 2021-2022 season, which makes the Kingdom second in the Arab world in this regard, while the total consumption of the Kingdom is about 163 million and 400 thousand liters, placing it in fourth place in the world and first in the Arab world.

Olive oil exports during 2022 recorded a good performance, according to data from the Ministry of Agriculture, and the volume of exports of this material during the first eight months of last year amounted to about 13,2021 tons, which is double the volume recorded in the same period of 456, while the value is 45 million dirhams (about 47 million dollars), an increase of <>%, and Moroccan exports mainly target the European Union market.

Olive cultivation accounts for about 68% of fruit trees in Morocco, and although it is spread in 10 regions of the Kingdom, the regions of Fez-Meknes and Marrakech-Safi contain 54% of the areas planted with olives, but the conditions of rain retention and high temperatures affected production.

The olive chain provides more than 50 million working days annually, or more than 200,25 permanent jobs, <>% for women.

Source : Al Jazeera