WITH the ongoing cost of living crisis, many household staples have drastically risen in price over the last couple of years, but there is one key ingredient that has hit a record-breaking price. Olive oil.

Beloved by celebrity chefs, a bottle of virgin olive oil is in almost every kitchen cupboard across Scotland, but the culinary staple has now quickly become a luxury item, leaving shoppers asking why has it become so expensive.

According to the grocery price index, olive oil products have gone up by almost £2 in the last year, with a bottle costing an average of £10, and one of the key factors causing soaring prices across Europe is climate change.

Spain, Italy, and Greece are the three biggest olive-producing countries in the world, and have felt the greatest impact of the climate emergency.

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The Mediterranean's olive groves have dried up due to back-to-back summers of unprecedented heatwaves as they experienced some of the hottest temperatures on record.

Juan Antonio Polo Palomino, who is the head of the olive oil technology and environment department for the International Olive Council (IOC), says with exceptionally hot summers, olive production will continue to decrease and the rise in prices will only continue.

He says: “For the first time in history since production data has been recorded, we have linked two extremely short production crop years.

“The severe drought of recent years in the western Mediterranean basin - mainly in Spain - together with higher average annual temperatures which reduce the cold hours accumulated by the plant that are essential for vegetative growth coupled with the extreme temperatures during flowering periods have entailed a perfect storm that explains the reason for the drop in production in the world's main producing areas.”

Palomino says the heatwaves across Europe have impacted the traditional groves the most as they are less able to withstand soaring temperatures, and that’s why there have been huge supply issues with olive oil.

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He says: “To this decrease in production, we add the inflationary crisis of the last four years, which has led to a multiplication of costs, we are faced with an increase in the unit cost of the litre of oil produced.

“This unprecedented situation of soaring prices is resulting in a significant downturn for the economies of numerous olive growers.”

It is not just the UK that has felt the financial pinch with olive products, as the European Commission reported in January 2024 the price of olive oil in the EU was 50% higher than in January 2023.

Every country in the EU reported higher inflation in olive oil over the last 12 months, with Greece up by 67% and Spain up 63%, despite being two of the biggest providers.

And while shoppers across the world are feeling the financial burden of olive production dwindling, there is a bigger social and environmental issue afoot with olive farmers and their crops fighting for survival.

Palomino's work studying how the climate emergency has affected olive farmers has highlighted that more should be done to conserve olive groves due to the amount of carbon emissions the trees consume.

He says society should see farmers as “guardians of the environment" who conserve the “lungs” of the earth and without proper funding or bureaucratic change will continue to see dire effects from climate change.

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He says: “The agricultural sector is the only sector able to produce GHG (greenhouse gases) emissions from soil management, nitrogen fertiliser application, fossil fuel use, rice cultivation, residue burning, liming of soils and use of urea.

“While at the same time, it plays a key role in addressing climate change, acting as a CO2 sink through the capacity of certain agricultural ecosystems to capture CO2 from the atmosphere and store it - both in permanent vegetative structures.

"Finally it transfers to the soil, increasing its organic matter content and converting it into a permanent CO2 store.

“In other words, the olive grove should also be considered as a forest of 11.5 million hectares, conserved by man, which acts as a lung, removing CO2 from the atmosphere and storing it permanently and stably in the soil, and this role should be recognised by society.

“Therefore, when the market is not sufficient to guarantee a decent and sufficient income for the people who dedicate their lives to olive growing, financial support mechanisms that in some way reward the role of 'guardians of the environment' carried out by olive growers appear as a solution to improve the income of these farmers.

“In this sense, the voluntary carbon credit markets - specifically those generated from carbon farming - may represent an opportunity, provided that the calculation and verification methodologies correctly consider the carbon balance potential of an olive grove.”

Olive trees are some of the oldest cultivated trees in the world and are widely assumed to be resilient plants when it comes to hot temperatures.

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However, research by the IOC has shown that due to severe changes in the weather, olive trees have now reached a point where the climate has become too warm for the plant and the whole phenological cycle - the stages of plant growth - has been altered.

Palomino explains the reason behind this change is because the relationship between agriculture and climate change is bidirectional.

This means both the olive tree and Earth's climate are reliant on each other to survive.

He adds that the last two crop years have proven there is a higher irrigation requirement and lower yield in olive products in the Mediterranean region due to the increased heat and water stress.

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This means that it has become increasingly harder for olive trees to thrive and grow.

With no end in sight for the climate crisis and with further record-breaking summers predicted, olive producers are braced for another year of dwindling crops.

As the olive groves dry up for a third year in a row, the much-loved kitchen staple becoming increasingly more unaffordable to shoppers is just another reminder of how much the climate emergency impacts almost every aspect of our lives.