12 Jan

Olive harvesting device a boon to farmers – or is it?

By Maher Zeineddine,

CHOUF: A new harvesting tool on the market is making the lives of Lebanese olive farmers much easier amid a record-breaking harvest season. While most farmers continue to harvest their olive crops in the traditional fashion – either by climbing a ladder and picking the olives off one by one, or by shaking the harvest from the branches of trees – some families have chosen to purchase a mifrat, which can do the work of four harvesters.

The mifrat, invented in Italy, consists of a long pole with multiple pincers and a collection cylinder. The pincers sever the olives from tree branches and the cylinder catches them as they fall.

Workers have been able to harvest up to 80 kilograms of olives a day using the device, a vast increase over what can be done with two hands.

The efficiency of the basic tool has a potential downside, however: Many laborers who have traditionally been able to secure work during the harvest season collecting olives have been put out of work.

“It’s true that this new technique makes our lives much easier. However, I’m afraid that it might lead in the very near future to me losing my job,” Nidal, a laborer at an olive grove in the Chouf, said.

The owner of another grove, who asked to be identified as Abdulkarim, frets that the traditional harvesting technique he still uses is not fast enough.

“My work is done at a very slow pace as compared to groves that already own a mifrat,” he said. “I’m afraid that the cold temperatures will ruin this year’s harvest.”

But with each mifrat costing anywhere between $350 to $2,500, depending on the model and size, the tool is too pricey for many small enterprises and family groves.

Several small-scale farmers have split the cost with their neighbors to make sure their businesses can keep up with more modern enterprises.

Some olive-grove owners have even said that the new tool may increase interest in potting olive trees, as many farmers have avoided the business in the past due to high costs.

While the mifrat may put the seasonal employment of many locals in jeopardy, the new harvesting technique has had positive effects on traditional olive presses, which have witnessed a surge in business this season.

Fouad Bitar, an employee at the Mukhtarah Press, said one farmer who had purchased a mifrat recently brought in approximately three tons of olives he had harvested in two days.

“We no longer accept random visitors,” Bitar said. “Anyone who wishes to have their olives pressed should make an appointment because we are working around the clock.”

No matter how fast olives can now be collected, however, the mifrat can’t help farmers sell their crop. The Chouf Olive Cooperative said that while this season was witnessing “unparalleled” production levels, “we are still facing huge difficulties in marketing olive oil.”

For the ease the mifrat provides, the technology doesn’t change the top wish of Lebanon’s farmers: consumers.

[Source] Click here

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