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Race to save endemic olive tree intensifies

The race to save the endemic olive tree has intensified, as a rediscovered species, mentioned in Renaissance literature is being repopulated.

The Perla Maltese is still in the process of being registered as a Maltese endemic variety by the International Olive Council in Spain. However, in the meantime, olive oil producer Sammy Cremona and the Department of Agriculture have grafted 500 olive saplings, which this October will be available for purchase from the Għammieri Government Farm.

Until recently, the white Maltese olive was only visible in books. In one particular reference during the reign of Grand Master Manuel Pinto da Fonseca, a chef mentions the Perla Maltese in a rabbit stew recipe.

The more the trees, the better the air quality and the more precipitation

It was not until he was called on site in Żebbuġ to prune and nurture sick olive trees that Mr Cremona first came across the elusive olive.

The discovery of this single white Maltese olive tree kicked off a search in other localities, but despite finding other white olive trees, these were not of significant help for the revival of the species.

After the one in Żebbug was tested for diseases, mould and viruses, Mr Cremona and the Department of Agriculture started grafting saplings from it.

Ten years later, these saplings are ready to be homed and will be available for the first time for the public.

The olive itself was this year commended for its quality, appearance and taste at the L’olio del futuro a Olio Officina Festival in Milan. Similar efforts to save another species – the endemic bidni – had been invested in 2002 with the launch of Primo (Project for the Revival of the Indigenous Maltese Olive).

Backed by Bank of Valletta, Mr Cremona rekindled interest in the bidni, which was in danger of extinction.

There are 21 trees of this species in Bidnija that have survived 2,000 years, and this has been confirmed through carbon-dating.

The bidni oil is distinctive from other olive oil in the Mediterranean, as it is packed with anti-oxidants and is high in antibiotic agents, Mr Cremona noted.

Mr Cremona estimates that Malta needs at least 300,000 olive trees to claim it has an industry, and he believes we need a million olive trees for a visible and positive impact on the environment.

“We need more and more trees to improve the environment in Malta and upgrade it to second class. In Corfu, the buildings are covered with trees and not vice versa, as in Malta.

“The more the trees, the better the air quality and the more precipitation. Olive trees are the ideal trees for our climate, as they are endemic and conducive to the environment. We have proof of this with the 2,000-year-old trees that are still standing.”

Run under the olives

Malta is going to host a half marathon with its fellow olive oil industry countries – Italy, Slovenia and Greece.

The marathon is part of an EU-funded project called Host: Heritage of Olive Oil Tree for Sustainable Tourism, which aims at developing a tourism product based on sport activities through initiatives such as FOOT: Fit on Olive Trails.

This is a network of four running events taking place in four countries that played an important role in the development of the olive oil industry.

In Malta, the half-marathon has been tied to the annual Żejt iż-Żejtun festival and is spread along a route passing through spots of historic interest in Żejtun.

The routes can be run in full or as a relay, with three team members running approximately seven kilometres each.

The event is meant to provide people with an alternative way of discovering the shared roots of the Mediterranean countries that chose to support a model of sustainable tourism, which cares about respecting the local ecosystem.

Coordinated locally by 5 Senses Ltd, the marathon will be held on September 18 and includes a 650m route for children, a 2.6km fun run and a 7.035km loop by three (half marathon). Those interested can apply through http://5-sensesmalta.com/marathon.php.

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