Growing Chinese demand for olive oil is putting pressure on the country’s government to accelerate the development of its domestic olive oil industry, reported The Olive Oil Times on 16 July.

In July, the number of olive trees in China reached 59M, having gone up by 20M trees in five years from the 39M counted in 2013.

Healthy eating habits were becoming increasingly popular among China’s growing middle class urban population and more frequent travel to countries like Spain and Italy had introduced them to olive oil, resulting in a potentially huge market for the product.

To meet the growing demand, the Chinese government had embarked on a national strategy to boost domestic olive oil production, which it said would also improve the living conditions of local farmers and prevent their migration within China, thus reducing rural depopulation.

The most suitable regions for growing olive trees in China were the Bailong River Valley in southern Gansu province and the Jinsha River Valley at the border between Yunnan and Sichuan provinces, said The Olive Oil Times.

However, differences between China and the Mediterranean – which included higher soil Ph and more frequent rains centring on the summer months – could cause problems in olive fruits, leaves, roots and yields.

Additionally, newly planted olive trees took a long time to begin producing fruits so, in the short term, China would still require imports to meet its olive oil demand.

However, in the mid and long term, its large land area, cheap labour costs and scientific approach to industry development could give domestic production a competitive advantage, The Olive Oil Times said.

Extra virgin olive oils were currently predominant in Chinese production, with a small amount of virgin oil produced on the side.

In 2016/17, approximately 5,000 tonnes of olive oil was produced in China, more than double that produced in 2014/15. It was estimated that in 2017/18 production would climb to 6,000 tonnes.