Olive cultivation (Cultivation of olives, pressing, storage, packaging) is closely related and interacts significantly with the Social and Natural Environment in the areas where this activity is carried on.

In almost all Mediterranean countries from ancient times until the present day the relationship between olive cultivation and the social environment has been very close. Its impact on social life is well known (mythology, history, tradition, religion) as is its impact on intellectual life (the fine arts, the letters and sport) and on the quality of day-to-day life (diet, health, beauty, decoration, etc.).

Moreover, in Mediterranean countries and in the warmer coastal zones which provide suitable soil and climate conditions for the growth and fruiting of olive trees, olive cultivation often has positive impacts on the natural environment.


Mythology. There are many well known myths associated with the Olive tree. Among the best known of these is that relating to the struggle between the goddess Athena and the god Poseidon over the name to be given to the city of Athens, which was won by Athena who gave man an olive tree as the symbol of knowledge, peace and wisdom instead of the horse, the symbol of power, which was given by Poseidon.

Religion. The olive tree and its oil are also closely connected with almost all monotheistic religions and in particular Christianity. The olive tree is well known from the Mount of Olives, the Garden of Gethsemane and the use of oil in the mysteries and ceremonies of the Christian religion (baptism, Holy Unction, etc.) and from the lighting of churches using oil lamps. Today olives are the trees which decorate the grounds of many chapels on Crete and elsewhere…

Symbolism. Moreover, the olive is considered an extremely important symbol of peace, knowledge, prosperity and hope. The dove that returned to Noah's Ark after the flood with the olive branch in its beak is a multiple symbol of peace and hope of prosperity.

The fine arts. The olive tree and its blossom and branches have been a popular subject in the fine arts from the Minoan age through Classical antiquity right up to the present day. There are numerous depictions in wall paintings, on vessels, in jewellery, on coins, in sculptures and so on. The wall paintings of Knossos are well known as are the Minoan pithoi and amphorae with painted scenes, the black and red Attican ceramic ware, carved scenes on various ancient sanctuaries and so on as well as the exceptional works of modern Greek painters such as Theophilus among others.

The Letters. The olive as a tree, its fruit and its oil as well as the task of cultivating and processing it have been the subject of numerous poems and prose works. There are many references in the ancient poets, tragedians and historians such as Homer, Plato, Pausanias, Aristophanes, Aeschylus, Euripides, Sophocles and others as well as in the works of modern poets and prose writers such as Palamas, Kalvos, Mavilis, Agras, Valaoritis, Venezis, Drosinis, Malakasis, Myrivilis, Nirvanas, Moreas, Polemis, Porphyras, Sikelianos, Papadiamantis, Eftaliotis, Varnalis, Prevelakis, Kazantzakis, Frangoulis and others.

Sport. Both the olive tree and its oil are closely connected with sport and have been from ancient times to the present day. In the Olympic Games the winners were crowned with a wreath from the branches of the wild olive which had been brought to Olympia by Hercules but athletes also rubbed and cleaned their bodies with oil before and after the games. Also during the later Panathenaic Games the winner's prize consisted of a number of amphorae full of oil whose value was not inconsiderable.

Nutrition - Health. The products of the olive tree, its fruit and in particular its oil are considered to be the main elements of a healthy diet. Documented medical studies such that the '7 countries' study are well known according to which the longevity of the Cretans is primarily due to the Cretan Diet which is based around olive oil. Today modern medicine is constantly confirming the beneficial properties of olive oil for cardiovascular conditions, for various forms of cancers, stomach ulcers, diabetes, and nutrition for children and the elderly.

Decoration. Moreover, in many parts of Greece today, and in particular Crete, olive trees are the decorative plants whose white and green colour are used to decorate the surroundings of villages, rural houses and modern country homes. This is no chance thing since the olive tree is tied into the psychology of the residents of these areas and with the external environment which is usually dominated by olive plantations.


The positive contribution to nature.

Olive plantations as forests. The endless olive plantations which contain more than 750 million trees which spread across all coastal areas of the Mediterranean, some consisting just of olive trees others intermixed with other forest and cultivated trees and plants from the Mediterranean are clearly a special form of 'forest' which has both features of a cultivated area and a classical forest. They offer both the advantages of a cultivated area and the positive impacts of a forest.


Beautifying the landscape. On Crete in particular 65% of agricultural land is covered by olive plantations. Thus the silvery-green of the olive tree dominates the physiognomy of the island and is the main feature of the natural environment in all farmed areas. Quite a few tourist resorts are surrounded by olive plantations and many tourist complexes have their grounds decorated with old or new olive trees. For this reason Crete is rightly known by many today as the Olive Island!


Contribution to health. The forests formed by olive plantations, just like all forests, certainly enrich the atmosphere with oxygen and create a clean and healthy atmosphere around villages and small towns. On Crete they constitute a comparative advantage for the quality of life of both residents and tourists to the island.


Their role in preventing erosion. Olive plantations which have been established in hilly areas of the island and in areas with extreme gradients using retaining walls contribute significantly to limiting soil erosion and retaining the shallow soils which exist, which without the olive trees would be transported downwards, denuding the mountains and hills and turning them into desert.


Enhancing aquifers. Olive plantations established on slopes or on areas with gentle inclines on which proper farming practices are used (removal of weeds at the end of the rainy season) contribute to rain water being retained and to its better penetration into the soil. In this way the enhance the reserves of surface water and that in subterranean aquifers.


The contribution to biodiversity. Olive plantations and in particular traditional and marginal ones provide dry food and protection to numerous species of microorganisms, small and large animals, birds and to other plant species and thus contribute decisively to maintaining biodiversity levels in their area.

Cases of environmental risks

There are certainly cases where erroneous or non-rational human actions during cultivation or processing of olives can cause risks of environmental harm. In most areas and in particular on Crete such risks range from extremely limited to non-existent and include:


Risks on sloping terrains. In cases where the olive plantations have been planted on terrains with major inclines without work having been carried out beforehand to establish flat areas behind retaining walls there is always the risk of intense erosion of the soil, loss of water from surface torrents and pollution of surface and sub-surface waters with agricultural chemicals. For this reason, during planting of olive plantations on sloping terrains it is necessary for retaining walls to be built with planting areas which are wide enough in proportion to the slope of the terrain.


Risks from intense cultivation. Intensive olive plantations account for 30% of the overall area under cultivation and produce 40% of world output. In cases where they receive excessive amounts of fertilizer or are sprayed with phyto-pharmaceuticals (although it is estimated that such cases are rare) there are risks are environmental harm. However this does not occur in classical, and more so in marginal, olive plantations which deserve to be preserved and protected.



The environment in the sense of climate conditions which vary locally and over time most certainly have positive and negative impacts on the development of production in terms of both quantity and quality.

The quantity on production is closely dependent on climate conditions (rain, temperature) particularly during the spring period when flowering and fruit set occurs.

The quality of production in terms of taste (organoleptic) characteristics depends more on the area and less on the year. That is because the climate conditions which influence quality are mainly those of the autumn - at which time the oil is formed in the fruit - which usually vary more from place to place rather than from year to year.


Waste from olive presses and in particular liquids (run off water) which has increased in recent years due to increased production and due to the import and generalized spread of centrifugal olive presses is a really serious environmental problem. When there is no effective method for handling such waste and it is freely dumped into nearby streams the surface and sub-surface waters or even the sea can be polluted.

Following constant updates, exhortations and controls by official bodies over the last ten years a large percentage (80-100%) of olive presses on Crete preferred the solution based on the evaporation tank method even though in certain cases there were problematic or inadequate constructions.

Until recently the olive stone was a remarkable by product but for two years now has begun to have problems. The problem began when benzopyrenes, which are considered to be carcinogenic, were identified in oil from the stones in Spain and then in Italy and Greece. The cause of the problem is attributed to high moisture levels at 65% or over in the olive stones at two phase olive presses.



Olive cultivation is one of the most environmentally friendly agricultural activities.


It has numerous important beneficial impacts on the social and natural environment.


Any non-rational use of olive cultivation can cause serious environmental repercussions.


Protection of marginal and rational management of productive olive plantations is required as well as proper management of waste and by products.