By Aatif Ismail
MULTAN, Mar 19 (APP): At a time when Pakistan is spending billions of dollars annually to import olive oil, the rich wild olive growth areas in different parts of the country remain off the eyes of the policymakers.
Although some planned initiatives have been taken for olive cultivation in some areas yet the tribal areas of South Punjab and Balochistan including Koh-e-Suleman region presented vast potential of ‘Grafting the Wild Olive’ to indigenously produce olive oil.
Focusing this strategy would not only prove to be a game changer by reducing import bill and contributing to economic development but also improve living standard of the local people.
Experts believe that there are millions wild olive trees in this area which could be improved through grafting and millions of liters of top quality olive oil could be extracted.
“Olive trees naturally existed in this area since hundreds of years but lacked authorities attention,” said Ahmed Khan Buzdar, a leading olive farmer. “Pakistan spends billions of dollars on import of olive oil from different countries but its own resource is yet to be fully tapped.”
Buzdar claimed that utilizing the olive potential in Koh-e-Suleman could help provide top quality oil, much better than the quality of the imported olive oil.
“Some experts believe that olive oil, we import is of ‘grade-three’ extracted from remains of already crushed olive fruit,” he claimed. “I myself observed this during my visits abroad as the oil exporting developed countries export grade three oil to developing countries.”
“However, we can produce much better quality oil and save precious foreign exchange, if pay proper heed to this sector,” he emphasized.
Ahmed Buzdar has cultivated olive trees at 15 acres in tribal areas of Balochistan, adjacent to Dera Ghazi Khan. “I have planted 2200 olive trees with 1100 among them offering handsome production at an average of 4000 liters.”
Buzdar said, “after losing my 1400 goats and sheep during drought from 1999-2002 in my area, I planed 500 imported olive tress gifted to me by a friend and today I am earning a handsome amount annually.”
He informed about presence of decades old olive trees in the area but regretted that people used to cut these trees for fuel and other purposes due to lack of awareness.
“The government should focus this region, protect the plants and ensure their grafting to get bumper olive production,” he suggested.
Another farmer Asad Jaan informed that there were over 20,000 olive plants in his district Musa Khel and people were earning reasonable returns.
“Barkhan, Musa Khel, Sherani, Zhob, Loralai, Khuzdar, Panjgor, Naushki, Warsak and some others districts were ideal for olive cultivation with temperature varying in this region from zero to 37 degree centigrade,” he revealed.
“Olive trees flourish amicably in an environment having 300 chilling hours (less than seven degree centigrade) in a year and these areas are ideal for olive cultivation.”
“But, oil extraction ratio over there during months of September, October and November is from 17 to 28 percent,” he said and demanded to put in place extraction facilities locally to ensure better production.
“Presently, the farmers have to travel for 15 hours to Chakwal and Attock for extraction,” he said and informed that for the picked up fruit, it is very much essential to ensure the fruit undergoing extraction process as early as possible as delays result in loss in production ratio.
Ahmed Buzdar has also underlined the need for installing machines in the area to facilitate local farmers and ensure better oil production. “Since, the price of an oil extraction machine is around Rs 85 million, local farmers lack capacity to spend that much money therefore the state should come forward to resolve this issue.”
He further stated that price of machines that re-extract oil from crushed fruit is around Rs 400 million.
He also pointed out fencing of the olive farms as essential as majority of the people in the area are into animals rearing business. “Therefore, to protect the olive plants, the government should finance the farmers for erection of fences.”
As promoting olive cultivation is direly needed to push the country to self-sufficiency and saving much needed foreign exchange, Director Agriculture Dera Ghazi Khan Mehr Abid mentions to different government measures for promoting olive farming.
“The government is extending all possible assistance to promote olive farming including identification of land feasible for this crop, guidance on use of different varieties and measures to get maximum output,” Mehr Abid said.
He informed that olive trees had been planted at 75 acres at different locations of the tribal area including Barthi and Kheeker. “We have to select specific areas for better output as olive plants located at 5000 feet above the sea level offer good oil production.”
He also mentioned to provision of drip irrigation facilities by the government to address the water shortage issues.
Since the country is facing foreign exchange reserves and food security challenges, it direly needs multi-pronged strategies to address these issues and initiatives like promoting olive cultivation can be much beneficial to bail the country out at least at two fronts, no matter even if at the smaller scale.