The silent olive revolution

Updated 02 Mar 2020

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By 2024, the country will have about 3m fruit-bearing plants producing roughly 1,415 tonnes of oil. — Dawn
By 2024, the country will have about 3m fruit-bearing plants producing roughly 1,415 tonnes of oil. — Dawn

With an increase in the area under cultivation, Pakistan is passing through a silent revolution of olive oil production.

The sector is rapidly moving the country towards self-reliance by introducing Pakistan’s national brand under the name of ‘PakOlive’ by 2021. The Pakistan Olive Oil Council will be established under the Ministry Of National Food Security and Research to suggest policy measures for the promotion of olive oil in the country. The government will also issue certifications for the marketing and branding of olive oil for the private sector.

“Certification is important as our local olive products can then become competitive in the international market,” said Dr Muhammad Tariq, national project director for the promotion of olive cultivation on a commercial scale in Pakistan. Furthermore, utilising marginal lands will help grow a cottage industry for olive products, he explained.

The project targets plantations of over 50,000 acres in the country by 2022. The available potential area for olive cultivation is about 10 million acres in Punjab, particularly the Pothwar region, Balochistan, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and erstwhile Fata, Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) and Gilgit-Baltistan.

By 2024, the country will have about 3m fruit-bearing plants producing roughly 1,415 tonnes of oil with an estimated value of Rs4.416bn

Given its potential for growing olive plantations, Pothwar has been termed as an ‘olive valley’ where over 1.2 million olive plants are being grown on an area of 11,125 acres, engaging about 1,300 farmers. More than half the plants will start bearing fruit in 2019-20’s cropping period, producing 5,118 tonnes of olive oil. By 2024, the value of oil olive production will increase to Rs1.727 billion.

In Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, over a million olive plants are being grown on an area of 9,391 acres engaging 768 farmers. The production of olive oil is estimated to reach the value of Rs1.458bn in 2024.

In Balochistan, over half a million plants are being grown over an area of over 9,391 acres and it is expected that by 2024, the value of oil will be Rs1.160bn.

In Islamabad Capital Territory and AJK, over 50,000 plants are being grown on an area of 455 acres of land engaging 228 farmers. The value of oil by 2024 is expected to be Rs71 million.

Thus, by 2024, the country will have about 3m fruit-bearing olive plants producing roughly 1,415 tonnes of olive oil with an estimated value of Rs4.416bn. The climate change ministry also plans to plant 1m olive plants.

Edible oil is an every-day use food item. Pakistan has been chronically deficient in its production. More than 80 per cent of the domestic requirements are met through imports. Since the early-1970s, its imports have increased at the rate of 12.5pc annually and the trend is worsening.

In 2017 alone, more than $3.2bn was spent on the import of oil, oil meal and oilseeds to meet domestic needs. Pakistan imported 3,000 tonnes of olive oil worth Rs1.241bn during 2017-18.

Dr Tariq explained that utilising marginal lands will help the cottage industry of olive products grow. Thus, livelihoods will be improved through employment generation opportunities created by olive value-chains developed in less-favoured regions of the country.

Olive forests resist drought and help absorb greenhouse gases when the capability of other trees decrease, making them more efficient in taking in carbon dioxide.

They also provide permanent crop cover that not only saves land from erosion and further degradation but also minimises silt load to downstream water reservoirs. Olive orchards require less water, fertilisers, pesticides and fuel energy as compared to other major annual oilseed crops.

Olive oil processing mills have been established by both public and private sectors in Punjab, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan. The largest processing mill has been set up in Chakwal and can extract 600kg of olive oil per hour.

In Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, processing mills are operating in Tarnab (500kg per hour), Nowshera (500kg per hour), Sang Bhatti (500kg per hour), Swat (200kg per hour) and Bajaur (200kg per hour). In Balochistan, a 200kg per hour processing mill has been set up in the public sector in Loralai, and two by the private sector located in Khuzdar (200kg per hour) and Kila Saifullah (50kg per hour).

International linkages with the Madrid-based International Olive Council have also been established, and recently, Iran and Morocco have shown interest in collaborating with Pakistan in this sector.

Published in Dawn, The Business and Finance Weekly, March 2nd, 2020