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Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Olive cultivation in Pakistan: A step towards self-reliance?

Dr. Muhammad Mumtaz discusses the benefits of olive cultivation for Pakistan. By planting olives, Pakistan can meet the local demand for edible oil, mitigate climate change, and address water security challenges effectively.

Traditionally, Pakistan isn’t an olive-producing country but wild subspecies of the olive are found at a large scale in different areas of the country. Pakistan has the potential to become self-sufficient in edible oil production by utilizing its suitable land for the plantation and cultivation of olive trees. The country is boosting its utmost efforts to reduce dependency on foreign edible oils and become a new player in the olive oil world.

Pakistan has set a target for olive oil production of 16,000 tons by 2027. It was estimated that for the 2019-20 season, the estimated olive oil production capacity in Pakistan is approximately 1,400 tons. Subsequent targets for olive plants will also be continued in the coming years.

It is worth mentioning that Pakistan has begun producing olive oil back in 2010 through its agricultural cooperation efforts with Italy and Spain as well as commercial cooperation with China. Spain and Italy are the major contributors to olive production in the world. Pakistan has shown its commitment to enhancing olive production in the country.

Read more: Pakistan, China agree to focus on technical cooperation in olive cultivation & oil production

Pakistan’s potential

Pakistan is an attractive country for the commercial cultivation of olives due to its suitable climate conditions, quality soil, and ecological diversity. Around 10 million acres have already been identified for growing olives in the country.

The Pothwar region in the northeastern nook of the country is being developed as an “Olive Valley” after being recognized as an appropriate area for olive cultivation due to its topography and local weather.

The olive plantations have multifold advantages: to meet the local demand of edible oil and contributing to the economy on one hand and on the other hand mitigating climate change and addressing water security challenges effectively.

Read more: Olive cultivation: Can it rescue foreign exchange reserves of Pakistan?

The identified 10 million acres of suitable land for olive cultivation in Pakistan is far more than Spain, which is the largest olive oil producer. Pakistan has remained dependent on olive producer countries and that costs Pakistan 2 billion dollars per year.

However, by producing olive on its native lands, Pakistan can not only fulfill its own need but it can even export to other countries because the quality of olive oil produced in Pakistan has proved far better than that of oil produced in Italy and Spain.

Pakistan has huge suitable land for the cultivation of olive. It is possible that Pakistan can even surpass Spain in production that produces 57% of olive globally.  For this to happen, there is a need to initiate concerted steps by the government for olive production at a large scale throughout the country.

Read more: Pakistan seeks to beat Spain, become largest olive producer in the world

Fighting agricultural threats through olive cultivation 

Pakistan fully understands the importance of olive production and is eager to cultivate olive because existing crops are not productive in those barren lands, where olive can easily be grown owing to its drought-tolerant nature and limited water requirements.

Climate change along with water security in Pakistan are other key factors continuously threatening the agriculture sector in the country. It has been reported that Pakistan will become a water-secure country by 2025, it is, therefore, important to set policy directions so as to meet the challenges of water crises in the country.

Olive plants are required the least water as compared to other plants and crops. The water scarcity challenge and sustainability of olive plants are other important reasons for Pakistan to grow olive trees on large scale and that too on top priority to meet edible oil requirements and to address the challenge of climate change and water security.

Read more: Looming water crisis, economy at stake: WEF warns Pakistan

Growing olive trees in the country will not just improve the economy, but will mitigate climate change significantly and will help in adaptation to water crises. Olive plantation should be the focus under the 10 billion tree tsunami project.

Considering the importance of olive plantation and my international exposure especially my experiences in olive production, countries motivated me to promote olive plantation in my native area which is fully covered by wild-olives species.

During my visits to olive rich countries such as Italy, Turkey, Morocco, and Jordan where I have seen massive olive farms and olive production, my interactions with local farmers and experts forced me to think why Pakistan is behind in olive production despite it having the potential to emerge as a major player in olive production.

Read more: Italy to seek olive production in Sindh

When I was in Jordan for academic activity, one of my fellows took me to olive farms and I was informed that a farmer can earn about $25000 per annum from a land of 5-7 kanals. This was the point when I decided to take such initiative towards olive production in my native area of Neelum Valley, Abbottabad, Pakistan which is believed to be a suitable place for olive plantation.

Promoting olive production

Neelum Valley is a beautiful valley consisting of two Union Councils and is about 30 miles away from Islamabad. The Valley is full of wild-olives trees and it is very likely that it is a suitable area where olive can be produced at a large scale. Thousands of wild-olive trees are spread in the area. Here the challenge was how to start the initiative and who will help us to provide sapling and helping us in grafting?

The government of Pakistan has taken various initiatives to promote olive production in the country. Thousands of trees were imported into the country, together with experts who helped to identify the most promising areas for olive cultivation. Multiple nurseries are established in different parts of the country.

Read more: Pakistan a world leader in Olive production: fiction, fact, or a lie??

Olive Pakistan project has been launched to promote olive cultivation across the country especially in identified regions for olive plantation. It was, therefore, important to secure governmental assistance.

During the last 1.5 years, I have approached federal governmental bodies and contacted relevant local and provincial agencies to get their help in the promotion of olives in my area. I was guided by these organizations and relevant actors but I noticed that this might be a very lengthy process and it will surely take a lot of time.

It is therefore I decided to initiate community measures on our own resources to start grafting on wild olive trees in the area. It is important to note that grafting is one of the best techniques to promote olive in any area. In the valley, initially, it has been grafted on 2000 wild-olive trees.


A need to establish an institutional framework

Mostly grafting has shown buds indicating that it is in fact a successful experience. These efforts can be further expedited in upcoming seasons. However, it is not possible to extend the drive further at a massive scale without proper interventions by the related governmental institutions.

This will not only require financial assistance but also technical support from different tiers of governmental and civil society organizations so as to attain actual results. We are expecting meaningful cooperation from the government to promote olive cultivation in these hilly areas holding the best land for olive plantation.

It is invited and requested by all relevant governmental institutions and local and international non-governmental organizations to visit our area and see the initiative and assess/ surmise the huge potential of this area for olive production.

Read more: Olive cultivation best investment for forex gains, food security: PM Khan

It is high time for the government and for civil society organizations to come forward to encourage our initiative and practically help us to make it successful in the long run. I have no doubt that this community initiative will not only emerge as a role model to promote olive cultivation but it will also act as a mean of community awareness and ultimately encourage other segments of the society to initiate more steps towards olive cultivation in the country.

Community initiatives are key for achieving the governmental targets for olive production in the country. However, there is a need to establish an institutional framework so as to facilitate the local actions. Let’s work together and make Pakistan a self-sufficient and a leading olive-producing country in the world.

The writer is Political Scientist, working as an Assistant Professor and Coordinator for the Graduate Program in Public Administration and Governance at The University of Haripur, Pakistan. He can be reached at mumtaz86@hotmail.com.The views expressed in the article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.