The first Fairtrade olive oil in the world

June 5, 2024

Zaytoun at 20: Harriet Lamb was the long time director of the Fairtrade Foundation in 2009 when Zaytoun was going through the process of getting our extra virgin olive oil certified. Harriet played a leading part in celebrating and raising awareness of the first certified olive oil in the world – and we were very proud it was Palestinian! We want to take this opportunity to thank Harriet for believing in the product, in the producers and in Zaytoun. (We’ve now got six certified products in our range)

What did it mean to the Fairtrade Foundation to have its first ever product from Palestine?
We were hugely proud to launch the first ever product from Palestine, and the first Fairtrade certified olive oil. It meant the world to us. We wanted to be sure that Fairtrade as a movement was also reaching people in areas of conflict where we could contribute to building the economic underpinnings of peace. And we knew that the British public wanted to support farmers earning an income in the most difficult situations. Plus of course Palestine is famous for its delicious olives and olive oil, rooted as your logo says in time and tradition, as well as for dates and almonds and we knew people would appreciate these lush foods to the full.

Fairtrade certification has helped Palestinian olive oil reach a wider range of shop shelves and gave it a mainstream appeal. 15 years on from certification and knowing that this certification was a gamechanger for Zaytoun, what are your reflections? Could you have envisaged this to be a sustainable trade initiative given the challenges?
Zaytoun and the farmers deserve recognition for overcoming so many, constant challenges and keeping the trade alive against all the odds. To be honest, sadly, not all initiatives trading with conflict zones have succeeded – so all credit to Zaytoun for keeping this connection between Palestinian farmers and the British public alive. I have always admired Zaytoun and your pioneering spirit, succeeding against all the odds.

It was thanks to your support and enthusiasm that Palestinian olive oil became the world’s first Fairtrade olive oil – how was that journey? Do you have any memories you’d like to share of the journey/launch?
Launching the Fairtrade olive oil from Palestine was honestly one of my highlights at Fairtrade. I remember meeting Mahmoud Issa and Nasser from Canaan at a North London Co-op store on a corner. It was a cold, dreary February day and we rushed out of the damp into the store. Then Mahmoud and Nasser stopped in their tracks. There, on a promotional stand, was their olive oil, with its stand-out Zaytoun logo. Tears filled their eyes. They were, they said, so proud to see Palestine talked about not just because of the conflict but also because of their beautiful products. They had never thought they would live to see Palestine on a normal, mainstream shop shelf and they were filled with pride. It was a poignant moment.

The farmers and Zaytoun have always shared such great food. The almond and those sweet, plump dates are just too good – I have to ration myself – and I’ve become addicted to cooking with Za’atar, sprinkling into most dishes! Buying Zaytoun from my local Oxfam store is all part of my regular shopping routine – now more than ever when I want to do whatever little I can to support Palestinians in their moment of deepest crisis.  

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