STAFF REPORT IBD: The government has developed a Rs 382 million plan to encourage olive production across the country by allocating regional belts especially in the three provinces including Punjab, Balochistan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Fata in order to minimise the annual import bill burden of olive oil on the national kitty.

“Under the project, gardens spreading over 800 acres of land suitable for olive cultivation would be cultivated in the country,” disclosed an official of the Pakistan Agriculture Research Council (PARC) this while talking to this scribe.

He said that under the project, the olive gardens over 300 hectares in Balochistan; 100 hectares in Khyber Pakhtwankhwa; 300 hectares in Fata and 100 hectares in Potohar region (Punjab) would be cultivated.

The PARC will coordinate and supervise the olive cultivation project at a national level, in association with the researchers from BARI.

Several agricultural scientists and economic analysts have emphasized the significance of olive cultivation for the agricultural economy of Pakistan. The state government of Punjab has already declared the Potohar area “Olive Valley.”

According to officials at PARC, this initiative will help generate better income for farmers in the country. Olive is a high-value agricultural product, which can also bring in the much-needed foreign exchange, if exported to other markets. Better economic realization from olive farming is likely to improve the socioeconomic conditions of the farmers in Pakistan and help reduce poverty in the rural regions.

At present, the total domestic consumption of edible oil is around 1.9 million tons, out of which 1.3 million tons oil is being imported from abroad annually spending a huge amount of Rs 28 billion.

The breakup of the olive oils reveals that the total production of banola oil is around 450,000 tons, sunflower 77,000 tons, canola 32,000 tons and other seeds is 700 tons per year in the country. Hence, 70 per cent oil is being imported against the local production of 30 per cent.

In this respect, the government is paying special attention to enhance the cultivation of canola, olive and palm oil in the country to save precious foreign exchange, he added.

Agriculture experts are of the view that since Pakistan lies in between the North and South belts, it is possible to grow olive in the country. The wild species of olive are found abundantly in different parts of the country particularly in the provinces of NWFP and Balochinstan which indicate that improved varieties can also be grown successfully.

It is to be mentioned here that in order to push the crop on commercial lines, improved varieties of olive imported from Italy have already been planted in Swat, Dir, Malakand, Loralai and at NARC Islamabad. In addition to the Italian cultivars, four Turkish olive cultivars are also introduced and planted at NARC for evaluation studies during 1986. Some of these cultivars have shown good performance and giving good yield in Baluchistan and at NARC Islamabad for last 4-5 years.

“Yes, we have the expansion of olive tree plantation in the country with a special reference to olive nurseries set up under the said university and project of grafting of wild olives available in various parts of the country especially upper parts,” said Prof. Dr. Muhammad Ashraf of the Arid University of Agriculture Rawalpindi.

According to him, if the project shows a major progress, it would significantly contribute certainly minimise the olive oil import bill which, at present, is increasing annually.

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