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Drive for olive cultivation

June 10, 2013

UNDER a joint venture of Pakistan Agricultural Research Council and the Italian government, 1,300 acres has been brought under olive cultivation during this fiscal year in Punjab, KP, Balochistan and FATA.

Funded under the Pakistan Italian debt-for-development swap agreement, the project management involves public private-partnership between Parc, community-based organisations, NGOs and farmers’ associations.

In the next two years olive will be planted over another 2,200 acres. Parc has so far trained 300 farmers, technicians and people associated with NGOs in olive cultivation, orchards management and value addition.

Five nurseries in public sector and 53 in private sector have been established that provide true-to-type plants for future needs, according to Parc Chairman Dr Iftikhar Ahmed. One hundred thousand cuttings have already been planted in nurseries.

Besides, Parc is also helping maintain those olive orchards that were established in public and private sectors independent of Parc but where owners needed technical help. Project Director of Olive Development at Parc Dr Mohammad Munir Goraya says that olive gardens being developed under the project would start bearing fruit in 2015. Afterwards, Parc would set up four olive oil extraction machinery (plants) to facilitate farmers. One big plant each would be established in Balochistan and Potohar region while two units each would be installed in KP and FATA regions.

Domestic olive production can give a boost to edible oil industry and encourage manufacturing of value-added products. But for this to happen, olive cultivation has to be undertaken on a large scale. And that is why, in addition to meeting the target of olive cultivation on 3,500 acres in three years, Parc is busy identifying ideal places for growing olive across Pakistan.

Officials say vast areas of barren and marginal lands in upper Balochistan as well as in parts of KP and Potohar region have been found suitable for olive farming and provincial governments are on board this project.

Olive cultivation is best suited in areas where summers are warm and dry and where winters are mild. Since a large part of the country offers similar weather conditions olive farming is quite feasible. Agricultural researchers estimate that there are around eight million wild olive trees in the country which bear no or seed-sized olive fruits of different varieties. If these are grafted and converted into productive olive trees the country can earn up to a billion dollars. But that is a tall order and requires both financial and technical resources.

Financial resources for large-scale olive farming will have to be arranged primarily by the provinces as agriculture is now a completely provincial subject. In its FY13 budget, the provincial government of KP had earmarked Rs100 million. It is to be seen if provincial governments are going to make any allocation for similar projects in their budget for FY14.

The Punjab government has declared the Potohar region as ‘Olive Valley’, and distributed thousands of olive plants to farmers, and held extensive training of olive growers in the region The Punjab Agriculture and Meat Company is also developing certified nurseries in the private sector in Attock, Rawalpindi, Chakwal, Jehlum and Khushab districts. Climatic conditions of areas like Sialkot, Narowal, Gujrat, Jhelum, Rawalpindi, Islamabad, Attock, Chakwal and Khushab are very conducive for olive cultivation. Many growers of rain-fed areas of these districts are reported to have been experimenting with olive farming for quite some time.

One key issue in olive plantation is the promotion of tissue culture technology. Olives are grown by mudding mode and grafting on wild olive trees or planting of new trees. Whereas availability of a large number of wild olive trees can facilitate the first type of olive farming, there is a need to plant new olive trees as well to get the required varieties suitable for making value-added products. Agricultural scientists say initially tissue culture technology can be used for developing nurseries of locally obtained olive seedlings but going forward the same technology can be utilised for promoting cultivation of imported varieties.

Another issue relates to the amount of rainfall in olive orchards. Olive trees undergo the flowering season in March and heavy rainfall at this time of the year can damage the crop. Similarly, more than moderate rains in summer season can cause diseases in olive fruits guarding against which requires lots of money to be spent on pesticides.

Yet another issue is the maturity of olive trees grown through grafting of wild olive. Since the drive for cultivation of olive began in 2000s, farmers in KP and in Potohar region have reported that in most cases olive trees take seven to eight years to mature and start offering fruits whereas ideally they should not take more than five years.

Parc officials say that at more than 50 training sessions they have held for olive farmers so far this fiscal year, this and other issues have been discussed thoroughly and technical expertise has been shared to tackle the problems. —Mohiuddin Aazim