Market Analysis for Olive Farmers in the Nineveh Plain of Northern Iraq

Market Analysis for Olive Farmers in the Nineveh Plain of Northern Iraq

By Carlos Rosales, Visiting Scholar, Purdue University; Ariana Torres, Associate Professor, Purdue University; Asaad Karam, University of Duhok; and Rezgar Mohammed, University of Duhok

Supporting partners: University of Duhok, Purdue University, LASER PULSE

About the Project

This LASER PULSE-funded project‘s overarching goal is to comprehend the connections between agricultural landscapes and cultural significance, in order to examine the combined social, cultural, agricultural, and economic effects of IS occupation on ethnic and religious minority communities in the Nineveh Province of Iraq. Additionally, it aims to locate agricultural resources that are culturally significant to members of minority groups and to assist them in restoring their use or production.

It employs a methodical strategy that places an emphasis on the cultural significance of agricultural activities in fostering a sense of belonging, cultural identity, and economic security. It takes into account the agricultural activities of farming, such as the production of livestock, wild plant gathering, market crops, and gardens at home. It also includes the local production of culturally significant products.

Local market in the Nineveh Plain, Iraq (Credit: Dr. Asaad Ali and Rezgar Mohammed)

For many years, olives have been a crop with strong cultural roots, as it is a plant native to the Mediterranean region that is adapted to arid conditions. Olive production has been the livelihood of northern Iraqi growers for generations. Today, the olive tree has an important potential contribution to Iraq’s economy. In addition to its impact on national income, the olive supply chain has important employment contributions.

In the Nineveh Plain, the olive value chain is essential. The value chain refers to the series of consecutive steps involved in the production of a product, from its design and harvesting to its purchase by the customer. The chain identifies each step in the process in which value is added, including the sourcing, processing, and marketing stages of its production. Additionally, this strategy would result in the expansion of the regional economy, as it will increase the trade of local products, generating an economic exchange within the community. In this way, money will remain circulating within the region instead of being used to buy foreign products. Both the producers and the different ethnic groups in the region will be able to remain in the region and continue with their cultural and religious practices, strengthening intercommunal interactions.

This segment of the project aims to investigate the olive supply chain in the Nineveh Plain of northern Iraq to create marketing strategies that will give local olive farmers a competitive advantage. Our project supports joint efforts that have been made to restore the agricultural practices that were in place in the region after the Islamic State occupation.

Among the inhabitants of Nineveh Plain, people belonging to Indigenous and religious groups (i.e., Christians, Yezidis, Shabaks, Turkmen, and Kaka’i) are regular consumers of olive pickles and olive oil. These groups are known to consume local olive products; however, the high unemployment rate and poverty are making customers price sensitive, which has increased consumers’ preferences for cheaper imported olive products. This strongly decreases the demand for local products, affecting the income of groups that depend economically on the olive trade, and discouraging production and cultural recovery. Due to their cultural roots, Yezidis and Shabaks tend to consume local olive products to a greater extent, not only for food consumption but also for rituals and treatments for medicinal purposes.

Olive varieties marketed in the Nineveh Plain (Credit: Dr. Asaad Ali and Rezgar Mohammed)

Market Analysis for Olive Farmers

Researchers at the University of Duhok are making efforts to collect primary data from producers, buyers, and consumers in the area to identify key players in the olive supply chain. However, some respondents have been reluctant to share information as events during the Islamic State occupation have weakened social and inter-communal interactions. According to the data of farmers, consumers, and market channels collected so far, about 80% of local consumers tend to consume olives of the Bashiqui variety, 10% prefer to consume the Khestawi variety, followed by the Decl variety with 5%, and the least preferred being Nepali and Dakhani with 2% and 1%, respectively. Similarly, 70% of consumers buy olive pickles and oil from retailers, while 15% buy directly from farmers, and 15% from wholesalers. The study is also investigating the different market segments in the Nineveh Plain and the potential market channels with their respective price points. 

The market analysis will provide information that can help farmers identify profitable buyers and market channels and create tailored marketing strategies. The findings and results of this project will create the evidence base to effectively design and implement marketing strategies according to the market segments that present the greatest commercial potential. This will allow producers to have higher profit margins, encouraging investment in equipment and processes, obtaining more competitive products, and increasing the consumption of local products. 

Data collection (Credit: Dr. Asaad Ali and Rezgar Mohammed)

The project seeks to increase the sustainability of the olive supply chain by improving producers’ profitability and how they market their products. Currently, the local olive supply chain faces issues with low product quality and presentation. While some producers have been gradually improving production technology, many are still unaware of or pay little attention to timely harvesting, market standards, and other measures that ensure product quality for further processing. It is understandable that their production is primarily supply-driven within the current commercial system, which offers few incentives for farmers to adopt new technologies or practices. Yet, the team expects that with the implementation of market strategies, farmers can receive greater revenues and invest in new technologies. 

The various phases of agriculture are linked by the value chain, which enables relevant stakeholders to comprehend the most effective methods for delivering products innovatively and efficiently, lowering production costs and maximizing financial gains, ensuring successful marketing of food safety, and ensuring widespread distribution. 

Seller of local olive products (Credit: Dr. Asaad Ali and Rezgar Mohammed) 

The market analysis will be completed in February 2023, by which time the remaining information will have been collected and analyzed. Marketing strategies will be generated and around 50 olive farmers will be trained. During the training sessions, the results of the market analysis will be shared with them to further inform and continue to restore their agricultural practices.

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