PAKISTAN IS the biggest importer of edible oil and the economy of the country has to bear a great burden annually on import of this valuable commodity. Currently, Pakistan is third largest edible oil importer, importing 2.6 million tons. Whereas, Pakistan’s climatic conditions and monsoon-free geography can make it a leading country for olive cultivation and a potential new edible oil industry.

Currently olive plantation over 5,100 acres in Pakistan and targeting 8,000 acres of land would be brought under olive cultivation. But besides, several projects of Federal and Provincial governments the olive cultivation did not reached the targets.

Earlier this year, the members of National Assembly Standing Committee on National Food Security and Research expressed their deep concerns over the misuse in Italian funded olive plantation projects initiated to promote olive oil production in the country. Chairman PARC Dr Yousaf Zafar informed the committee that transparent investigation against those involved in misappropriation of funds of olive plantation project is under progress. Meanwhile, Managing Director of PODB Nasir Ali informed that the working of the board is limited to Islamabad Capital Territory and FATA after 18th constitutional amendment, even liaison with provinces has no mechanism.

The Pakistan Oil Seeds Development Board (PODB) in year 2000 made a project in Punjab, Baluchistan and KP (then NWFP) province to reduce edible oil imports by producing olive oil in Pakistan. At that time, there were thought to be over 50 million wild olives trees, that already grow in government owned forests, but they bear no more than a seed-sized fruit, and started an olive grafting project.

According to PODB, this project was initiated in 2000 at a cost of PKR 24.055 million to accelerate olive cultivation in KP and Potohar region. Another project of same nature was initiated in 2001 worth PKR 186.379 million for rapid conversation of wild olive into oil bearing species. Under which about eight million wild olive plants would be converted into oil bearing species in the KP, Punjab, and Baluchistan by 2008.

Since 1984, Italian government is taking deep interest to cultivate olive in Pakistan and started an ambitious project in 2006 to covert Pakistan’s barren wild olive groves into fruit-bearers. It was expected that about 0.88 million hectares without irrigation are ripe for cultivation, whereas Italy, the world’s premier producer of olive oil has 1.07 million hectares under cultivation.

It was mentioned by Raffaele del Cima, project officer for the Italian government’s olive oil promotion scheme that sixty percent of the FATA, and twenty-two percent of south Baluchistan is suitable for olive cultivation. The Italian donors were expecting high in producing extra-virgin olive oil, with the hopes that if 25 million trees can be planted in next 15 to 20 years, 72,000 tons of oil could be produced annually, maintained Raffaele del Cima.

Later in 2012, a three-year project was launched under the debt swap agreement between Pakistan Agriculture Research Council (PARC) and Italian Government for Promotion of Olive Farming in Pakistan, to brought 1500 hectares of land under olive cultivation, in addition to that already utilized for the cultivation of olive. Talking on the occasion Dr. Mohammad Munir Goraya, the then Senior Director (Crops) & National Project Director (Olive Production) said, “once established, the olive gardens would start bearing fruit after three years (in 2015)”.

After 18th amendment the devolution of powers to provinces has increased the gap between planners and executers, which is the root cause for missing the targets of developing mass-scale production of olive nursery plants.