Ms Zuha Tiwana is a psychologist, freelancer, and analyst. She can be reached at [email protected]
Olives are an excellent source of edible oil, pickles, and are used for other table purposes. The fat content in the olives is cholesterol-free and hence a very good fat source for a healthy heart and body. Its applications include a variety of cosmetics, food, preservatives, and skincare. Olives are of vital importance when it comes to Islam and their significance has been certified by Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him) many times. Pakistan, being a dynamic agricultural country has a lot of potential for farming olives.
According to estimation, if eight million wild olive plants, that are already present in different areas of the country, are grafted and converted to productive olives and related products then there is a clear chance of one billion dollars income per annum. In addition wastelands in Pakistan can be utilized for olive cultivation to give a net benefit of up to 9 billion dollars annually.
Pakistan‘s Olive History
In the 1950s, Pakistan imported several grafted olive plants and cultivated them in different areas like Kashmir, Zhob, Swat, Rawalpindi, Simla and Kangra hills, Sargodha, and Jhelum districts. The Pakistan Agricultural Research Council (PARC) introduced olives in Pakistan in 1986 under an Italian project—the “Fruit, Vegetable and Olive Project.”
A survey was conducted after the project found that there are over 80 million wild olive plants in Pakistan. In a similar project by the then federal government, 5.5 million olive plants were planted but only 1 percent survived because of usage of top worked plants. In 2012, PARC again collaborated with Italy to launch a large-scale olive plantation project worth 3.82 billion rupees.
The Italian government also awarded the “Promotion of Olive Cultivation for Economic Development and Poverty Alleviation” project to Pakistan under the Debt Swap Agreement in 2012. The project is still ongoing and targets the culture-able wastelands of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Balochistan, and Punjab provinces.
Pakistan is blessed with a variety of soil, ecological zones, and climatic conditions. If utilized properly, the 4.4 million hectares of suitable land present in Pakistan can yield maximum edible oil production which can lead Pakistan to self-sufficiency in olive production as well as its utilization.
The Prospects of Olive Farms in Pakistan
There are three approaches to discuss and elaborate on the potential of farming olives in Pakistan. The first one explains how wild olives can be processed and grafted to increase the productive trees in specific areas. The second approach proposes olive planting in the culture-able wastelands. The last approach stresses the farming of olives as a new crop in different areas of Pakistan which are favorable for its growth and multiplication.
The cultivable land for Pakistan is far more than that in Spain. The annual import of olive oil in Pakistan has been around 2 billion dollars. Being able to produce maximum olives will not only help Pakistan in fulfilling its needs but also the olive products will be exported to the targeted nearby markets. Moreover, the quality of olive oil produced in Pakistan has been found to be better than that of Italy and Spain.
Pakistan has the potential to surpass Spain which at present is producing 57 percent of the world’s olive oil. The barren and drylands of Pakistan can be utilized for farming olives owing to their drought-tolerant nature. Much of the lands in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan are dry because of less annual rainfall. The highest potential for farming olives in Pakistan has been found in the Bajaur agency, followed by North Waziristan and Kurram agencies.
Current Status of Olive Production in Pakistan
Recently, the government of Pakistan is increasing the number of olive farms in the country. The “Ten Billion Trees Tsunami” initiative of Prime Minister Imran Khan and his government has targeted the growth and production of olive products. It also aims to reduce climate change and alleviate poverty by creating new jobs for the needy.
Moreover, the ongoing promotional project—the Promotion of Olive Cultivation for Economic Development and Poverty Alleviation—will help in producing edible olive goods and setting up oil mills in targeted areas of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK), Balochistan, and Punjab. It will eventually create jobs, thus a step towards alleviating poverty in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan.
More recently, the experts have used the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) to expand cooperation in the agricultural sector between both countries. In the inaugurating ceremony of olive farms in Nowshehra, Prime Minister Imran Khan urged that olive production, in the long run, will be fruitful for the country’s food security, unemployment, climate issues, and economy. Moreover, the farmers are encouraged to get the groves going.
The Minister of Climate Change said, “As the olive plantation is being established on marginal or degraded lands with poor farmers, consequently they do not have adequate resources for initial investments, such as irrigation facilities, watch and ward. Therefore, the federal government is providing olive nursery plants free of cost and drip irrigation systems, as water-saving technology in this sector.”
He added, “The Ministry of Climate Change is also planning to augment the present efforts, in terms of planting, under the Billion Tree Tsunami Project. Moreover, a strong collaboration in the olive sector with the Italian government support is also underway.”
Pakistan to Target Neighboring Markets
The largest producers of olives in the world include Spain, Italy, Morocco Turkey, and Greece. Spain and Greece are also the largest consumers of olive oil. Whereas, Spain is still the world’s largest producer of olive oil followed by Italy. About 78 percent of olive oil in the world is produced in Europe; the annual consumption in Asia, Australia, and the United States is also increasing with time. Hence, for Pakistan, the most feasible market becomes China.
Right now, the production of olives is not at all impressive but by 2027, Pakistan wants to produce 16,000 tons of olives. Recently, the Rawalpindi, Jhelum, Khushab, Chakwal, Attock and, Potohar regions have been declared as Olive Valley by the government of Punjab. These lands have 11,125 acres of land on which almost 1.2 million olive plants are being grown with a higher potential to reach 5,200 tons of edible olive oil by 2024, worth 1.727 billion PKR.
In KPK, 9,391 acres of land are being used with an expected olive oil worth of 1.458 billion PKR by 2024. However, in Balochistan, five lac plants, with a supposed economic income of 1.160 billion PKR by the year 2024, are expected. In the same way, a substantial revenue of 71 million rupees is estimated by the plantation of 50,000 olive plants in Azad Kashmir and Islamabad, with a land coverage of 455 acres, in the next four years.
To cut short, it would take years and decades to reach and register among the top olive-producing countries, with a lot of precise efforts and smart work. The ultimate goal is to help the stumbling economy of Pakistan and the utilization of olives for commercial purposes. The climate of Pakistan is best suitable for the establishment of olive farms. Small farmers, cultivators, and landlords must be encouraged to grow olive plants in their lands.
A soil survey is pertinent to identify the most feasible areas, lands, and temperature zones for olive production. Smart use of assets and machinery can prove vital. All the aforementioned ideas should be implemented in high letters and spirits to help Pakistan enter into the global trade market of olives and its products.
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