BAJAUR, Aug 14 (APP): Together with abundance of minerals, gemstones reservoirs and scenic natural beauty, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s seven merged tribal districts especially Bajaur and Waziristan are most suited for olive farming due to their compatible soil, climate condition and ecological diversity.
Once became aware of the potential of their fertile land, the hardworking tribal people’s response to this profitable olive farming business have turned Bajaur green.
Thousands of olive trees planted in plains and mountains of seven tehsils of Bajaur district on Mohmand-Bajaur road as well as lush green olive valleys of Talash at Dir Lower catch attention of visitors once they pass through these areas.
From Barang to Khar and Nawagai to Chamarkand tehsils of Bajaur, the locals with active support of KP agriculture and forest departments have planted olive trees in abundance whose yields are contributing greatly to their wellbeing.
Sharifullah Bacha (64), a progressive farmer from Salarzai tehsil, has hired extra labourers to plant the available olive stock on his eight-acre land during monsoon season. “I have planted 5,000 olive plants in spring season this year and would plant another 5000 saplings during current monsoon through Ashar plantation,” he said.
Hoping for monsoon rains in the mountainous region for his new plants, Bacha said, “provision of ample water for these plants is must, without which farmers can suffer great financial losses.”
Ziaul Islam Dawar, Director Agriculture Extension Bajaur said under KP government’s olive promotion project, grafting in over 250,000 wild olive trees was achieved while olive orchards on 150 acres were successfully raised in Bajaur.
Ahmad Said, former Project In-charge, Promotion of Olive Trees Cultivation on Commercial Scale (POTCCS) Khyber Pakhtunkhwa told APP that the entire Malakand division including Bajaur and Dir districts, merged areas’ South Waziristan, Orakzai and Khyber tribal districts were most suited for olive cultivation.
He said around 4.4 million hectares land in KP, Punjab, Balochistan and erstwhile Fata were suited for olive cultivation.
Talking to APP, Ahmad said Spain was producing about 45 percent of the total world’s edible oil from olive cultivation on 2.6 million hectares, while Pakistan despite having a vast suitable area of 4.4 million hectares for olive farming was importing around 75 percent edible oil to cater its domestic needs.
When asked about measures needed to enhance olive production, Ahmad said the first olive promotional project funded by the Italian government was launched on June 1, 2012 under which olive cultivation on over 1,500 hectares were achieved.
Later, this project worth Rs 3.82 billion was handed over to Pakistan Agricultural Research Council (PARC) after devolution of Pakistan Oil Development Board (PODB) on February 12, 2012, which was later completed on June 30, 2015, he added.
The federal government in order to capitalize on the good work of the Italian-funded project launched Promotion of Olive Trees Cultivation on Commercial Scale (POTCCS) project worth Rs2.3 billion in 2015.
Ahmed informed that under the project, about 6.5 million wild olive plants were naturally raised in thickly olive-covered mountains and plains areas through enclosures at Bajaur, Dir, Waziristan, Manki Sharif Nowshera and others districts besides Potohar region of Rawalpindi and Balochistan.
Around 70 million wild olives trees were identified in KP including 11 million in Bajaur district, he said.
In addition to completion of grafting in 400,000 wild olives trees, olive saplings were planted over 400 acres across Bajaur by farmers that have already started giving fruits.
“It requires five years for an olive tree to produce fruits. Normally one kilogram of olive fruits produce 200-milliliter oil and from 100 kilograms a farmer can get 17 to 20 liters easily while one liter extra virgin olive oil is sold at about Rs2200 to Rs2500 per liter,” he said.
Ahmad said one tree can give a farmer Rs15,400 to Rs20,000 income per year and that olive fruits can also be sold for Rs120 per kilogram easily in the local market.
“The exotic olive plants mostly imported from Spain, Italy, Tunisia, Malaysia, Morocco, and Turkey are relatively more costly than indigenous wild olive and efforts are being made to increase production of indigenous plants through grafting in wild olives trees to encourage farmers to go for commercial olive farming,” he added.
Approximately, 1.3 million olive plants and orchards on 14,000-acre land would be raised in Bajaur, Dir, South Waziristan and other potential districts of KP by 2027.
Similarly, under POTCCS project, 50,000 acre additional land would be brought under olive cover in the country. Olive cultivation on over 25,000 acres has already been completed under the project with major share from Dir Lower, Bajaur and Potohar region of Punjab.
Oil extracting machines in Bajuar and Dir districts were chemical free, he said, adding Pakistan’s olive oil also had great demand internationally due to its purity and better quality.
Dr Muhammd Naeem, Professor of Economics Department, Swabi University said Pakistan was spending billions of rupees on imports of edible oil including soybean, palm oil, sunflowers and other related commodities since 1970 despite 4.4 million hectares land suitable for olive plantation.
He said around 3,000 tons of olive oil worth Rs1.241 billion had been imported during 2017-18.
Pakistan was spending about USD 4 billion annually on the import of edible oil, he said, adding the country’s annual requirement of edible oil was about five million tons with 16 kilogram per capita edible use.
“In 2006, Pakistan’s edible oil import bill was only USD 615 million that jumped to record USD 3.8 billion in 2022 while the country was currently producing only six metric tons.”
Muhammad Ibrahim Khan, Deputy Project Director, the 10 billion trees project said out of 70 million wild olive tree plants discovered in KP, 40 million would be grafted in the next five years with the support of the Agriculture department.
He said 25,000 olive trees were planted in Azakhel Nowshera in the last two years.
The experts said olive farming had great potential in Bajaur and the government’s constant patronage would help increase farmers’ income and alleviate poverty, besides proving a harbinger of making Pakistan self-sufficient in edible oil.
APP/fam/ati (APP Feature Service)