Chainsaw-wielding thieves target ancient Mediterranean olive trees – AP

The global olive oil shortage has led to a spike in thefts of the crop in major producing countries, AP reports

Chainsaw-wielding thieves target ancient Mediterranean olive trees – AP

Rising olive oil prices have reportedly sparked raids on growers across the region

Record-high olive oil prices worldwide have sparked an unprecedented wave of thefts across the Mediterranean, the Associated Press (AP) reported this week.

According to the news agency, Greece, Spain and Italy have been suffering warehouse break-ins, dilution of premium oil with inferior product, and falsification of shipping data. Moreover, there have been reports of a growing number of criminals using chainsaws to steal heavily laden branches and even entire trees from unguarded groves.

“The olive robbers can sometimes produce more oil than the owners themselves – seriously,” Greek grower Konstantinos Markou told AP.

According to the report, the thieves have been mostly looking for branches, which they later sell to lumber yards or firewood vendors, while the olives go to an oil mill.

“The (robbers) look for heavily loaded branches and they cut them. So, not only do they steal our olives, but they cause the tree serious harm. It takes 4-5 years for it to return to normal,” grower Neilos Papachristou complained.

In Italy’s Puglia region, growers have reportedly been trying to set up an agriculture division, backed by the police. Greek farmers want to bring back a rural police division that was phased out in 2010. Meanwhile in Spain, specialised tracking devices have been developed.

Severe droughts in major countries producing olive oil – sometimes referred to as ‘liquid gold’ – have led to a disruption on the global market for the crop.

World output of olive oil is expected to shrink to 2.5 million metric tons this crop year, down from 3.4 million a year earlier. The shortage will lead to higher prices for consumers, analysts warn. In Greece, a liter bottle of extra virgin oil jumped from around $9 in 2022 to as much as $15 this year.