The Cultivation of Olive Trees in China

The Cultivation of Olive Trees in China

2018/11/01 - The expansion of olive oil consumption throughout the world during the last decades has aroused the interest of the Asian giant for this product and its cultivation. After several attempts in recent years, the Chinese Government, in order to alleviate the poverty of rural populations, has promoted new plantations, placing the most important of them in the provinces of Gansu and Sichuan.

In this article published in Mercacei Magazine 93 there is a brief historical review of the cultivation of olive trees in China, describing the main producing regions and presenting preliminary results obtained in evaluation trials of flowering and growth in an experimental olive grove in Mianyang (Sichuan).

The entry of the olive tree in China has taken place in different stages in the last 60 years with moderate success so far. Its history takes place in several phases, being in the 60s when the first five olive varieties were introduced from Albania and Russia. In the mid-1970s, the Chinese government, in collaboration with the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), promoted a new project through the introduction of new varieties, the creation of an experimental center and several plantations in order to improve the cultivation techniques applied (Provedo, 2011). In the last 20 years, due in part to the support of companies from traditionally producing countries, there has been an expansion of the crop by different regions of the country, all located within the range of latitudes between 30º and 45º, which enables the cultivation of olives, being the main producing provinces Gansu, Sichuan and Yunnan, reaching a total area of ​​54,820 hectares (Government of Longnan, 2016), although this data are not totally reliable due to the small size of the farms.

Climatic differences between the producing areas of China and Spain

The Spanish olive grove, concentrated mostly in the south and centre of the peninsula, has a Mediterranean climate that favors the proper development of the crop. Despite being in a similar latitude, the producing areas of China have very different climates from those of the Spanish areas, ranging from semi-humid subtropical in the interior provinces to monsoon subtropical in the coast. These seasonal and annual temperature and rainfall differences are a major limitation for cultivation in China.

The main thermal differences between China and Spain occur in the winter period. Toledo (39ºN) is considered a cold zone for olive cultivation in Spain due to the low winter temperatures and also has milder temperatures than Seville (37ºN) during the spring. On the other side, during the winter period, in the cities of Longnan (33ºN) and Yangzhou (32ºN) the temperatures are lower than those of Toledo, while those of Mianyang (31ºN) are quite similar. Summer temperatures are very similar between China and Spain, although virtually throughout the year the maximums are presented by Seville.

The main rainfall differences between China and Spain are in the summer period. While in Toledo and Seville the main rains are concentrated in autumn, spring and winter, in Chinese areas the case is quite the opposite. In Mianyang and Longnan rains are very scarce in autumn and winter compared to Spanish cities, while in spring and summer the opposite effect occurs, with the summer rains being somewhat shorter in Longnan. For its part, the city of Yangzhou shows high rainfall in all seasons. Thus, in the global calculation of rainfall, of Chinese cities, Longnan is the one that most resembles Spanish cities, although the distribution differs.

Given the problems that existed around the olive grove in China, it was decided to carry out some trials in which the productive differences between Mianyang and the Mediterranean producing area could be determined. This information will determine a line of action to increase your profitability.


  • The Bailong River valley, where the city of Longnan is located, has the climatic characteristics that most resemble the Mediterranean Basin and, therefore, are the most favorable for the cultivation of olive trees in China, since the summer rainfall is scarcer than in the rest of the producing areas, even higher than in the olive-growing area of ​​Spain.
  • The level of agronomic technification of olive cultivation is insufficient, which translates nowadays into a scarce production. The lack of knowledge in the handling of the pruning causes that the trees acquire big dimensions, preventing a correct illumination and aeration, which, together with the high humidity, favors the development of diseases, which today represent a big problem reflected in the massive loss of leaf.
  • The current productive performance of the olive tree in China is very low and although the country has a very large surface area, the areas where it could be successfully cultivated are scarce due to differences in climate. Therefore, with the information currently available, it can be considered that China will not be a competition for Spain as far as olive oil production is concerned.
  • However, the consumption of olive oil in China is high and increases year after year. It is considered positive that the country achieves a certain production so that the consumer can know this product and, thus, become familiar with it.

    This information was presented at the closing ceremony of the IV edition of the Olive Cultivation Course of the Polytechnic University of Madrid in collaboration with the Ceigram, also with the collaboration of Ender Gunduz, head of the Promotion Unit at the International Olive Council; JiaWei Wang, from the Beijing Forestry University; Andrés Grande, Roberto Hermoso and Boris E. Sainz de Vicuña, from the Polytechnic University of Madrid.

E. Sainz de Vicuña1, W. Jiawey2, R. Hermoso1, A. Grande1 y M. Gómez-del-Campo1

1. Universidad Politécnica de Madrid
2. Universidad Forestal de Beijing

Here you can read the whole article published in Mercacei Magazine 93.

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