Turkish Journal of History
Opinions and Recommendations on the Development of Olive Agriculture and Olive Oil Manufacturing in the Late Ottoman EmpireSerap Sunay
In the Ottoman Empire, olive oil was a vital product used in more than one field, from lighting and soap production in particular to the lubrication of industrial machinery and meeting soldiers’ subsistence needs. When the Ottoman Empire became a raw material exporter with the expansion of industrialization activities in Europe in the 19th century required some studies to be carried out on how to increase and expand olive quality and olive oil production and trade in the domestic market. However, despite the well-intentioned initiatives, the olive and olive oil sector, which the state regarded as part of its national wealth, had many ongoing problems. From this perspective this article discusses a number of reports containing the ideas taht had been put forward for the purposes of protecting, improving and developing olive agriculture and the olive oil industry that the Ottoman Empire urgently needed in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The article has additionally addressed certain documents containing important information on the subject in order to confirm the observations and determinations in the reviewed reports. The article in this way has been able to evaluate the actual picture of olive agriculture and olive oil production in the late Ottoman Empire from a wider perspective.
Son Dönem Osmanlı Devleti’nde Zeytin Tarımı ve Zeytinyağı İmalatının Geliştirilmesine Dair Görüş ve ÖnerilerSerap Sunay
Osmanlı Devleti’nde zeytinyağı, aydınlatma başta olmak üzere sabun imali, sanayide makinelerin yağlanması, yemeklik ve askerin iaşe ihtiyacının karşılanması gibi birden fazla sahada tüketilen hayatî bir üründü. 19. yüzyılda Avrupa’daki sanayileşme faaliyetlerinin genişlemesiyle, Osmanlı Devleti’nin bir hammadde ihracatçısı konumuna gelmesi, iç piyasadaki zeytin ve zeytinyağı üretim ve ticaretinde kaliteyi yükseltip, yaygınlaştırmak için birtakım çalışmalar yapılması zorunluluğunu da beraberinde getirdi. Ancak iyi niyetli girişimlere rağmen, devletin “millî servet” addettiği zeytin ve zeytinyağı sektörünün birikmiş pek çok sorunu mevcuttu. Bu noktadan hareketle makalede, 19. yüzyılın sonları ve 20. yüzyılın başlarında Osmanlı Devleti’nde acilen ihtiyaç duyulan zeytin tarımı ve zeytinyağı sanayiini koruma, iyileştirme ve geliştirme adına ortaya atılan fikirleri içeren birtakım raporlar ele alındı. İlaveten, konu hakkında önemli bilgiler içeren farklı bazı belgeler, incelenen raporlardaki gözlem ve tespitleri teyit, kontrol ve tamamlama maksadıyla makaleye eklemlendi. Bu sayede son dönem Osmanlı Devleti’nde zeytin ve zeytinyağı üretimine dair mevcut resmi daha geniş bir perspektiften değerlendirme imkânı elde edildi.
The olive tree has maintained its importance throughout history thanks to its hardiness and ability to survive for centuries, as well as the wide areas in which its fruit can be used. In addition to cooking, olive oil is used as an important raw material in multiple sectors including in particular lighting, soap production and drug making, which are vital for preserving public health, as well as for lubricating industrial machinery and on wool in the textile industry. In addition to these, the Ottoman Empire saw olive oil used to lubricate sledges in the shipyard and horse harnesses in the palace. Moreover because the plain butter and vegetable needs of the army were unable to be met during World War I (1914-1918) in particular due to the conditions of that period, olive and olive oil, being high in calories, nutritious, and relatively easy to transport, became the basic food of the Ottoman army. Therefore, the controlled and healthy maintenance and development of olive agriculture and olive oil production constituted one of the leading issues in the Ottoman Empire, which had large olive groves in its fertile lands that were able to consistently meet these needs. Being considered a basic need, the empire followed a systematic policy to ensure that olive oil, regularly, uninterruptedly, and affordably way arrived in Istanbul, the largest consumption center. Similar policies were applied to soap as well as a basic cleaning product made from olive oil.
As can be understood from what has been explained so far, olive oil had the characteristics of being a commercial product that was extremely important in meeting the needs of the domestic market, especially in Istanbul. Olive oil was used in many business lines and also became a commodity of great importance in the foreign market as a result of the increase in international competition in trade in parallel with the acceleration of industrialization in Europe in the 19th century. However, during this time olive farming and olive oil production in the Ottoman Empire was not happening in proportion to its importance. The large olive groves the empire owned were unable to be utilized at the desired level due to reasons such as policy absence, negligence, financial difficulties, and some administrative weaknesses. Another issue that caused great distress in the sector was the issue of the oil being impure or mixed with others; this started to spread widely at the end of the 19th century. This food adulteration had manifested itself in the form of mixing cottonseed oil with olive oil and reduced the commercial value of oil; it reached a level that not only caused a loss of prestige, market, and value in the international trade of olive oil produced in the Ottoman Empire, but also threatened the people’s food security. This mixing of cottonseed oil with olive oil has been frequently discussed and was also an issue with legal, financial, and political dimensions. Being aware of the seriousness of the problem, the state tried to take some measures to prevent this fraud by banning the import of cottonseed oil into the empire. However, states such as England and France objected to and protested the ban, claiming that they had suffered economic harm from it. The issue of importing cottonseed oil into the Ottoman Empire had gained a completely different dimension with the intervention of the USA, which produced a large amount of cottonseed oil; the USA not only damaged the empire’s right to oppose food fraud but also made the issue an international one. However, despite its struggle, the Ottoman Empire could not prevent cottonseed oil from entering the country as a result of being bound regarding the commercial privileges it had previously granted to foreign states. The problem of impure oil grew more and more over time, and various vegetable oils in addition to cottonseed oil were mixed with olive oil, such as sesame and peanut oil, and olive oil could not be kept pure.
Apart from these facts, the political and financial instability of the Ottoman Empire made olive farming and olive oil production more difficult, especially with the effect of the relentless wars it had experienced since the beginning of the 20th century. The growing avalanche of sector problems such as the loss of labor in the sector, shortage of resources, insufficient steps taken toward industrialization, inability to modernize production, decrease in olive groves due to soil loss, and neglect shown toward existing olive groves became chronic and difficult to solve over time. In other words, all these factors caused a decrease in the yield of olives and olive oil, which was an important international trade product at that time that the Ottoman Empire owned, thus both damaging its commercial reputation and resulting in large financial losses.
Experts in this matter put forth some ideas for solving the problems regarding olive growing and olive oil production, which had ossified and accumulated and were based on multiple factors, as explained above. From this point of view, this article examines some original reports on the benefits olive farming and olive oil production would provide to the empire’s economy by pointing out the problems of olive agriculture and olive oil production, which the Ottoman Empire looked at as part of its national wealth and by developing and competing with foreign states in the international arena to reveal what needed to be done in order to protect this national wealth. The common starting point of these reports was that the olive groves in the fertile lands of the Ottoman Empire and thus the olive oil industry were not at the global level they deserved. For this reason, one of the most important goals in the reports was to take steps to ensure the industrialization of olive oil, which had become a valuable commercial product with the influence of industrialization in Europe as well as in the Ottoman Empire. This was because olives as the raw material required for the industry were available in abundance in the Ottoman lands and were of a higher quality than what competitors had. However, the recommendations in the reports can be summarized as establishing olive oil and soap factories with certain standards, improving olive groves, producing high-quality edible olive oil, and exporting them to Europe, and these were not easy to implement due to the severe financial crisis, the devastating wars, and lack of workforce the state was experiencing. On the other hand, these reports contain opinions and suggestions for developing the olive oil industry that is still present today, for making it a worldwide commercial product, and for developing the country’s economy and are an extremely valuable resource in terms of illustrating the state of olive agriculture and olive oil production in the last period of the Ottoman Empire.