A Garden of Peace with 21 varieties of olive trees was inaugurated on July 19th at the Mediterranean Agronomic Institute of Chania (MAICh) in Crete, Greece.
By Lisa Radinovsky, editor of Greek Liquid Gold
The trees come from the twenty-one olive-growing countries that represent 95 percent of the world’s olive production. Viewed as a symbol of peace for millennia, olive trees are the sole focus of this new garden.
“It is often said that the Mediterranean begins and ends where the olive tree grows,” commented Placido Plaza Lopez, Secretary General of the International Center for Advanced Mediterranean Agronomic Studies (CIHEAM), which includes MAICh.
Before the garden’s inauguration, the Secretary General compared the olive tree to “a lighthouse for our region and future generations. Greek mythology reminds us that Athena, goddess of wisdom, made this immortal tree spring up by touching a clod of earth with the tip of her spear,” thus providing “the flame that will illuminate our nights” with lamp oil and the fruit that will feed us.
Placido Plaza Lopez hoped “this sacred tree which carries within it millennia of our collective history” would help “remind us that what unites us will always remain more powerful than what separates us.”
“As hunger reappears in the world and food insecurity resurfaces in some countries of our region, the nourishing symbolism of the olive tree is a salutary reminder: agriculture is of vital importance, and more sustainable agro-food systems are essential conditions for prosperity and peace,” Plaza Lopez said.
Member of Parliament and former Greek Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis said she could “not think of a better way than this garden of olive trees to transmit to present and future generations a message of peace and respect.”
Discussing the importance of food security during this time of war, climate change, and energy and food crisis, she emphasized the need to “come together, to overcome what drives us apart, and recognize what brings us together. For we are not that different…we are all seeking prosperity, we are seeking to flourish,” she said. “The Mediterranean Sea has been our sanctuary for centuries, it has allowed us to develop, to come together and carve a path towards a shared beneficial future,” even in the face of many other conflicts in the past.
Garden of Peace: Olive tree unites the Mediterranean
The president of the Garden of Peace cultural association, Francesco Serafini, similarly sees “the olive tree, the tree of peace…as a catalyst, the olive tree as a means of uniting all the countries of the Mediterranean in an imaginary embrace…a means of establishing bridges whose main pillars are peace, tolerance and cooperation, particularly in today’s world, where violence is winning terrain over charity and goodness.”
Serafini explained that the Garden of Peace organization is a non-profit cultural association that was officially recognized in May 2021. It has established three other gardens that resemble this one, with the trees sent from the world germplasm bank in Cordoba, Spain.
However, the garden at MAICh in Crete is unique in being “the first international garden,” and the one with a scientific and educational aspect, since here the biodiversity represented by “21 varieties from 21 countries can be studied in the same environment” at an international institution hosting Master’s students from various nations.
Serafini hopes Gardens of Peace will inspire “a network of collaboration” in everything “from the commercial sector to tourism, culture and science,” providing “an opportunity to create multilateral activities in cooperation with all the countries that have joined the project.”
There are opportunities to grow together, for example, by coming together for meetings and seminars near the Gardens. Already, MAICh students and staff, representatives of CIHEAM Member States and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Greek politicians, and the Executive Director of the International Olive Council have gathered at the new Garden of Peace in Chania.
The inauguration of the Garden of Peace at MAICh was part of the 60th-anniversary celebration of CIHEAM. MAICh is one of the four institutions of CIHEAM, which also has its headquarters in Paris.
CIHEAM is a Mediterranean intergovernmental organization focused on agriculture, food, and rural development. Composed of thirteen member states, it engages in education, research, networking, technical assistance, and dialogue. Its goals are to protect the planet, improve food security and nutrition, help manage tensions, and ensure inclusive, sustainable development.
As Dora Bakoyannis pointed out, CIHEAM offers support to help move Mediterranean agrofood systems “towards greater sustainability, responsibility and inclusiveness, by mobilizing the precious instruments of regional dialogue, education and research.” She added that it is “more imperative than ever” to “persist in such cooperation” and wished the center another sixty years of successful contributions to the region.
The mayor of Chania, Panagiotis Simantirakis, added that he is “grateful to CIHEAM and for what MAICh is offering our town. MAICh is a window of communication with the countries of the Mediterranean, especially from the primary sector of agriculture,” sharing important technology and information, promoting Cretan cuisine, and making the city even more beautiful by bringing foreign students to it.
Originally published on Greek Liquid Gold: Authentic Extra Virgin Olive Oil (greekliquidgold.com). See that site for recipes with olive oil, photos from Greece, agrotourism and food tourism suggestions, and olive oil news and information.