Almond origin and cultivation in the Mediterranean basin

Almond origin and cultivation in the Mediterranean basin

Almond [Prunus dulcis (Miller) D.A. Webb] is a tree crop species originated from Iran and the Middle East being the Mediterranean basin the most important centre for diversification of the species.

In the Mediterranean stage, almond species appear to have been brought into Greece prior to 300 BCE, eventually becoming introduced to all compatible areas of the Mediterranean basin, South of Europe and North of Africa. In the North of Africa, the almond tree dates back to ancient times, having been grown extensively since the Carthaginian era, 8th century BC.

Being the granary of Rome during the Roman Empire, Tunisia was considered as one of the main trade routes along which almond was spread throughout the shores of the Mediterranean Sea reaching Spain. Finally, from Spain, almonds were distributed to the rest of the world including North America, South America, South Africa and Australia (Gradziel and Martínez-Gómez, 2013).

World almond production reached around 2 million tonnes in 2014 with a total harvested area of 1.65 million has. Spain, with 530,000 ha of cultivated area and a production of 200 thousands of tonnes (mt) was the second world almond producer, after USA (315,000 ha and 1545 mt). In Morocco and Tunisia, almonds also occupied an important place with an area of 250,000 and 150,000 ha respectively and a production of 101 and 66 mt (http://faostat.fao.org).

Almond cultivation in the Mediterranean countries is mostly non-irrigated with kernel yields around 400-500 kg/ha, which is much lower than the 2,300 kg/ha of US, where the production is much more intensive and exclusively irrigated. These almond producing areas play an important role in social strengthening and retention of families in the area, thus contributing to reduce emigration. However, in spite of the higher oil quality and nutraceutical content found in the varieties grown in the Mediterranean area, this culture, is affected by the low rainfall and drought-limited production.

The almond is an important fruit crop species worldwide cultivated for it appreciate kernel for the processed food industry but also as a functional food with both nutritional and medical (nutraceutical) properties including nutrients, vitamins, healthy blood lipids or anti-inflamatory and hypocholesterolemic properties (Kodad et al., 2008; 2011; Poonam et al., 2011; Musa-Velasco et al., 2016). These nutraceutical properties are a new important trait to be incorporated in the new almond breeding programs (Kodad et al., 2017).

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