Tuesday, January 25, 2022

The Greek Scientific Society celebrates the World Olive Day

Commentaries by five members of the Scientific Society of Olive Encyclopaedists (4E) on civilization, health and Covid-19, climate change, the value of olive growing, olive policy, follow.

The Greek Scientific Society celebrates the World Olive Day

Celebrating the World Olive Day:Commentaries by five members of the Scientific Society of Olive Encyclopaedists (4E) on civilization, health and Covid-19, climate change, the value of olive growing, olive policy, follow.

The olive … balm on the wounded Earth

Aikaterini Polymerou – Kamilaki, PHd, Emer. Researcher, Former Director of the Hellenic Folklore Research Centre of the Academy of Athens, member of 4E.

The landscape of the olive serves to remind one of mankind and is a benign intervention in nature on the part of man. It is a source of balance between man, the transient, and nature and life, the eternal.

Olives make up the Greek landscape, dry but domesticated. The landscape adapts slowly to changes. It retains traces and features of previous ages. It is an important source of historical information for piecing together social structures, technologies, functions and symbolisms. It indeed reflects social and economic life for a much longer time than its actual life. We can approach the landscape of the olive by combining the perspectives given by archaeology, history, folklore and cultural anthropology. Such an interdisciplinary approach allows us to view the colourful olive groves on the walls of the palace at Knossos or the fossilized olive leaves and olive stones from Santorini, the eternal olive groves of today’s Corfu and Amphissa, of Messenia, of Rethymnon and Chania on Crete and the deserted olive presses in their interrelationships as a whole.

The olive, as a tree, source of food and as a symbol, in all its natural and symbolic vigour, is, in the Mediterranean, intimately tied up with the existence of mankind. The cultivation and production of olive oil, along with the sacred rules for its protection, and its use, which brings awareness of its sanctity, becomes a nourishing, soothing and divine action for the body and the soul.

The reproductive power of the olive, its extraordinary longevity, its importance for mankind’s diet and its ability to preserve organic material brings the olive close to the essence of the goddess Earth, inexhaustible source of life and nourishment. The olive is the miraculous offspring of the mythical land of the Hyperboreans. It symbolizes the unwearying fertilizing powers of the earth. Continuously renewed and ageless, it supplies food and creates life and so is associated with immortality. Tradition links the olive with almost all the female divinities of vegetation and fertility, since to cultivate the olive leads men to a peaceful co-existence that ensures the renewal of life and the smooth succession of generations in the same place. The ancient Greeks honoured their dead heroes with athletic games and the valuable prize of the branches cut from the holy trees of olive and laurel, in what was the apotheosis of tree worship.  Death, linked with the earth and its fertility, is metamorphosed into the triumph of life and joy in victory in the form of health, immortality and peace.

This sacred tree and its precious products, olives and olive oil, seem to be in the future benefactors and protectors of the long-suffering Mediterranean area. Recent research has shown that olive forests, traditional olive groves, are the most protective lands, as the most experts will say later.

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Olive oil and coronavirus

Constantinos A. Demopoulos, Emeritus Professor of Biochemistry & Food Chemistry of the Department of Chemistry of the University of Athens, Greece, member of 4E.

It is well known today that our dietary choices affect both our health and the environment, as discussed in the new WWF report on the importance of an environmentally friendly diet [WWF: The health of the planet goes through our plate . In the case of the Mediterranean diet, in addition to the indirect -but significant- beneficial effect on the environment, since adopting such a diet reduces the ecological footprint, it also has a direct beneficial effect on humans. To the many beneficial effects of the Mediterranean diet today, with the pandemic, one more has been added: Its beneficial action against the coronavirus.

Our research team, consisting of the Emeritus Professor of Biochemistry & Food Chemistry of the Department of Chemistry of the University of Athens, Greece, C.A. Demopoulos, the Professor of Biochemistry of the Department of Dietetics-Nutrition Science of Harokopio University, Athens, Greece,  S. Antonopoulou, the Head of the Department of Clinical Nutrition at GNA Korgialenio – Benakeio Athens, Greece, Dr. P. Detopoulou and Theocharis Theocharidis, Professor of Tufts University in Boston, USA, published 5 articles in scientific journals in the period 2020-2021 on the coronavirus and the disease it causes, known as COVID-19. In this work, through a new approach that introduces the involvement of the most powerful mediator of inflammation, the Platelet Activating Factor (PAF), a possible biochemical mechanism has been described, scientifically integrated and bibliographically documented, which not only completes our knowledge of the mechanism of entry of the virus into cells, but also explains the complications of COVID-19 disease. It should be noted that the structure of PAF was elucidated  by C.A. Demopoulos in 1979 at the University of Texas at San Antonio. In addition, our work points out the potential beneficial effect of PAF inhibitors which are present in the food of the Mediterranean diet and in the main food that characterizes it, olive oil. For this reason, we recommend the Mediterranean diet and olive oil as a suitable protective diet. Scientific publications from universities and research centers on different continents have strengthened the possible involvement of PAF in COVID-19 and experimentally demonstrated the protective effect of the Mediterranean diet.

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The timeless value of the olive

Stavros Vemmos, Emeritus Professor of Agricultural University of Athens, President of 4E

The establishment of World Olive Day shows the enormous importance of this tree for the world community, mainly because its primary products, olive oil and table olives, are so valuable for humans.The olive is a centuries-old tree whose importance dates back to ancient times.  Fossilized olive leaves, 50,000-60,000 years old, were found in Santorini and Nisyros in Greece.

In particular, the olive tree has a great timeless value for Greece because it is inextricably linked to our lives. This is shown by reference to it in nutrition, medicine, sports, enlightenment, decoration, religion, art, literature, poetry, folklore, mythology, culture and economics. For the ancient Greeks, it was a sacred tree, and it has always been a symbol of wisdom, serenity, peace, culture and fertility. The cultivation of olives first developed in Greece around 3000-2000 BC and then spread to other European countries and the rest of the world.

The great nutritional value of olive oil and olives is now recognized by modern medical science and as the main ingredient of the Mediterranean diet as well as a shield protecting health.

In modern Greece, olive cultivation has enormous economic, nutritional, social, cultural and environmental importance. Olives are cultivated on 1,1160,000 hectares and represent 21-23% of the total cultivated area. Olive oil and table olives are among the main export products of our country. Its cultivation employs 450,000 families and many thousands more seasonal workers.

Traditional olive cultivation contributes positively to the shaping of the natural environment. However, traditional olive groves have an important role to play in tackling climate change. When cultivated sustainably, olive production is a net negative  contributor to the greenhouse effect by absorbing and assimilating CO2 from the air. Sustainable cultivation is environmentally friendly, better adapted to climate change and must be the future of olive cultivation in order for it to remain viable under the future conditions of climate change. The state must take the necessary measures and provide incentives in this direction.

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Dr. Dimitrios Voloudakis, Scientific Collaborator Academy of Athens, Capacity Building Manager New Agriculture New Generation

Knowledge, olive and climatic change

These days almost the entire Greek countryside is on a continuous movement. The villages are alive again, the olive mills have started working, in the cafes the discussion revolves around the olive tree, the yield of the fruit, the acidity of the oil.

Grateful growers who see trees loaded with precious fruit. However, not all of them, as the farmers of eastern and southern Greece for another year find reduced production due to the problematic fruit set because of the southern winds of spring, while the prolonged high temperatures of July favored the growth of olive fly. In northern Evia and in Eastern Mani, many olive groves have been completely burned by the summer fires. On the other hand, some pioneer farmers are optimistic that their newly established olive groves in Western Macedonia will grow smoothly with lively and sturdy trees.

These are just a few of the many effects of climate change on olive growing. Nowadays science can predict for the next 30 years with enough certainty, the forthcoming changes that are summarized in a temperature’s increase from 1.5o-2o C, a decrease in rainfall about 10% and more frequent occurrence of extreme phenomena of flood, drought, etc. We know that the role of man is catalytic in dealing with, to some extent, the negative consequences. Avoiding the installation of olive orchards in arid areas with south orientation, use of drip irrigation, forecasting the time and point of impact of olivefly with precision farming, early warning systems of extreme phenomena, are just a few tools we should use in trying to adapt to climate change. Ultimately, this knowledge is one of the most important factors in tackling climate change, and the transfer of know-how from experts and researchers to end-users, olive growers, should be a top priority.

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26th November, a day of contemplation

Vassilis Zampounis, Agricultural Economist – Publisher, member  of 4E

The olive world today celebrates the olive tree and its products. However, producers and consumers alike appreciate its products, olive oil, table olives and others, 365 days of the year.

Market crises due to the imbalance of supply and demand are frequent phenomena, not only for olive oil but also for table olives. If we want the traditional model of olive production to survive in line with ecological concerns and the Mediterranean diet, who is going to bear the additional cost?

Olive oil accounts for only 1.25% of world vegetable oil consumption, and olive trees only 0.78% of cultivated land. How do we move forward, by imitating others or differentiating ourselves from the patterns of mass production and marketing of the substitute seed oils?

Olive cultivation is increasing daily in tens of countries and on five continents. How do we maintain global unity and balance?

I was born in the country which thousands of years ago gave humanity  the myth of the goddess Athena. Her wisdom gifted us the olive tree and, in return, the ancient Greeks dedicated the Parthenon of the Acropolis to her. How can we repay her today for the invaluable goods she provides, equipping us to deal with threats such as climate change and COVID-19?

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Photograph, courtesy of Andreas Smaragdis, Erecheion on Acropolis, Athens, with the sacre olive tree.

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