Olive cultivation: A key to strengthen economy, earn foreign exchange in billions

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By Fakhar Alam

PESHAWAR, Oct 11 (APP):Blessed with varieties of soils, ecological zones and climate conditions, Pakistan is a unique country with over 4.4 million hectares of suitable land for plantation of olive trees. If utilized properly it can prove a harbinger to make Pakistan self-sufficient in edible oil’s production.

 “The most suitable climate conditions, quality soil and ecological diversity have made Pakistan an attractive country for commercial cultivation of olives on about 4.4 million hectares areas in Punjab, KP, Balochistan and Erstwhile Fata,” said Muhammad Tariq, National Project Director, Promotion of Olive Trees Cultivation on Commercial Scale (POTCCS), Pakistan Agriculture and Research Center (PARC), Ministry of Food Security and Research, Islamabad while talking to APP. 

Olive trees’ plantation has been restarted at large-scale in Potohar region of Punjab, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, erstwhile Fata, Balochistan, Azad Kashmir and Gilgit Baltistan after substantial decrease of coronavirus cases, he said.

The country’s political dispensation came to realize to reclaim vast unutilized land through the plantation of over three million olive trees in five years auguring well to overcome the looming threats of food security and poverty especially in rural areas, which are largely dependent on agriculture.

Rawalpindi, Chakwal, Jehlum, Attock and Khushab districts of Potohar region were declared Olive Valley by Punjab Government where over 1.2 million olive plants are being grown on 11,125 acres areas with a potential to produce about 5,200 tons edible oil worth Rs1.727 billion by 2024.

Similarly, about one million olive plants are being grown on 9,391 acres with an expected economic value of Rs1.458billion in KP by next four years.

In Balochistan, over 500,000 plants are being grown over 9,391 acres with an expected economic oil income of Rs1.160billion during the said period. 

Likewise, over 50,000 plants are being grown on 455 acres in Azad Kashmir and Islamabad, which are likely to generate a substantial revenue of Rs71 million after four years.

The whopping plantation of about three million fruit bearing plants with a potential to produce 1,415 tons edible oil is expected to generate Rs4.416billion revenue by 2024 for the country. 

“Spain is producing about 45 percent of the total world’s edible oil from olive cultivation on 2.6 million hectares while Pakistan despite having a vast suitable area of 4.4 million hectares for olive farming as compared to Spain is importing around 75 percent edible oil for its domestic consumption,” the national project director said. 

To cater people’s growing demands, he said, the first olive promotional project funded by the Government of Italy was started on June 1, 2012 under which olive cultivation on 1,500 hectares were successfully achieved.

This project worth Rs 3.82billion was later handed over to Pakistan Agricultural Research Council (PARC), Islamabad after devolution of Pakistan Oil Development Board (PODB) on February 12, 2012 and was completed on June 30, 2015. 

To capitalize on the good work of the Italian funded project, he said Government of Pakistan had launched mega “Promotion of Olive Trees Cultivation on Commercial Scale (POTCCS)” Project worth Rs2.3 billion in 2015 for increasing production of edible oil, expediting socioeconomic development in rural areas, alleviation of poverty and generation of employment opportunities for youth. 

Muhammad Tariq said the project was currently underway in Punjab, KP, erstwhile Fata and Balochistan under which 50,000 acres additional land would be brought under olive cover. “Olive cultivation on around 25,000 acres has been already completed under the project and this figure would have been higher today had COVID-19 not struck in February last.” 

He informed that about 6.5 million wild olive plants have been naturally raised in thickly olive-covered mountains and plains areas at Potohar, Balochistan and KP’s Bajaur, Malakand and Lower Dir districts. A visitor could see thousands of wild olive grafting trees of an Italian variety on mountains at Talash in Dir Lower district while going to Chitral.

“I am very impressed to see olive trees covered mountains at Talash where 22,000 wild olive trees bore fruits besides grafting in 114,000 plants achieved,” said eminent social worker and General Secretary of a Karachi based Dua NGO at Talash.

He urged the KP Government to declare Malakand Division as Olive Valley keeping in view of its suitable climate condition and better soil fertility.

Prof. Dr. Muhammad Naeem of Economics Department, University of Swabi (UoS) said olive was a highly profitable farming and the assistance package would help give enormous boost to olive cultivation in KP. 

He said Pakistan is spending billions of rupees on imports of edible oil including soybean, palm oil, sunflowers and other related commodities since 1970 and around 3,000 tons of olive oil worth Rs1.241billion were imported during 2017-18.

“This huge amount could be saved by promoting olive farming, which is a great source of edible oil besides used in food preservation, pickles, textile and cosmetics industries.” Ahmed Saeed, Project In-charge POTCCS KP told APP that plantation activities have resumed in olive’s rich Dir Lower, Abbottabad, Manki Sharif Nowshera and Bajaur districts following reduction of coronavirus cases in KP.

“The exotic olive plants mostly imported from Spain, Italy, Tunisia, Malaysia, Morocco and Turkey are relatively more costly than indigenous wild olive and efforts are being made to increase production of indigenous plants through grafting,”he added.

He said, “normally, Rs400 per sapling is being spent on import of exotic species as compared to Rs150 to Rs200 per locally grown wild olive.” Saeed said about 600,000 to 700,000 hectares of land is suitable for olive cultivation in KP, adding Rs25 billion revenue could be generated by planting 0.6 million olives trees on 50,000 acres land and Rs250 billion from one million plants per year. Under the project, he said a target of olive plantation on 6,400 acres has been set for KP out of which cultivation on 1,300 acres were completed so far.

Explaining about future’s plans, he said around three millions olive plants would be planted in the country in next three years with assistance of farmers, national building departments, NGOs, educational institutions and general public and special olive enclosures would be set up in these olive rich areas to achieve the said target. 

A comprehensive survey for collection of solid data to determine type of olive varieties to be grown in merged areas especially in North Waziristan, South Waziristan, Kurram and Mohmand districts would be started besides arranging special training and field days’ events for farmers, growers and landowners.

Abdul Rauf Khan, Director General Agriculture Research, Agriculture and Livestock Department KP told APP that grafting in wild olives has been started in Lower Dir and Bajaur districts on pilot basis after it was declared model districts for olive farming.

 “Olive cultivation on 6,000 acres land in Mardan, 100 acres at Manki Sharif Nowshera and 10 acres land at Tarnab Peshawar has been completed under the project”, he said.

 He said, “olive cultivation is a profitable business and any person with at least one acre of land having 400 olive plants and Rs25,000 cash can easily earn upto Rs150,000 to Rs two lakh per year,” said Dr Rauf, adding the maximum age of an olive tree is 500 to 1000 years. 

“The spring season, from February to April and soon after monsoon is most suitable for olive cultivation in Pakistan,” he said and added, “Normally Olive trees start production after five years of plantation and produce fruits upto 100 years.”

The species could be grown on any type of soil where an adequate amount of water is available, he explained. “Olive roots did not go deep in soil and could be cultivated both in plain and mountainous areas except in high al-pasture zones due to deep underground water level.” 

He said, “those areas, which receive about 200 to 900 millimeters rainfall annually are suitable for its cultivation on a commercial scale.

However, salinity areas were not suited for its cultivation.” Tehmaship Khan, Project Director, Billion Trees Afforestation Project (BTAP) told APP that olive trees were an effective tool to counter adverse effects of climate change, global warming and environmental pollution and were easy to grow both on roadsides sides and plain areas. “Olives project should not be linked with BTAP as it was completely a separate project being executed by the Agriculture Departments,” he clarified.

National Project Director (POTCCB) said the private sector was being involved in its cultivation and raising nurseries of olive plants and that around 15 major private olive nurseries were raised for distribution of plants to farmers.

Ziaul Islam, Assistant Director Agriculture Bajaur said over 2,50,000 olive plants were distributed among farmers, people and olive orchards on 150 acres were raised in Bajaur. 
Dr Tariq said 84 new olive varieties had been introduced out of which plantation of eight to 10 varieties was underway in the country and research on the adaptability aspect of remaining varieties was being done by different agriculture research institutes. 

New olive extraction plants and processing mills in Nowshera, Sang Bhattai Mardan, Tarnab Peshawar, Swat, Bajaur, Attock, Chakwal and Loralai Baluchistan equipped with modern equipment with oil extraction capacity of 4000 KG per hour were established, he said.  Two oil extraction plants were also set up in Khuzdar and Kila Saifullah by the private sector to facilitate olive farmers. 

He said certification and marketing was imperative for competition of indigenous olive products at international markets besides utilization of marginal lands for growth of cottage industry for olive products. 

Underlining the need for regulating olive business, he said certification and better marketing besides special packages on the pattern of the construction industry would help achieve autarky in edible oil production.

Mohibullah Khan, KP Minister for Agriculture and Livestock said the PM Agriculture Emergency Agriculture Program worth Rs903 billion has been launched across KP including merged areas with special focus on development of agriculture and livestock, construction of watercourses and calves fattening besides promoting poultry and olive cultivation.

He said Agriculture Research Institute Tarnab (ARI), Peshawar has been declared Center of Excellence for research on olives and Sang Batti in Mardan as Olive Valley.

 The Minister said technical assistance to olive farmers was being provided by experts of the agriculture department besides holding field visits and training workshops at district level.