A THREE-YEAR project for olive cultivation in regions where climate and soil are suitable for the crop, has been initiated by Pakistan Agriculture Research Council.
The Rs382 million project envisages olive plantation over 800 hectares — 300 hectares in Balochistan, 100 hectares in KP, 300 hectares in Fata and 100 hectares in the Pothohar region of Punjab.
Being funded under the Pakistan Italian debt-for-development swap agreement, the project will be managed through public private-partnership between Parc, local community-based organisations, non-governmental bodies and farmers’ associations.
Meanwhile, the Punjab government has declared the Pothowar region as ‘Olive Valley.’ It recently distributed olive plants to farmers, and organised training of olive growers in the region.
The Punjab Agriculture and Meat Company (Pamco) plans to develop 10 certified nurseries in the private sector in Attack, Rawalpindi, Chakwal, Jehlum and Khushab districts.
These nurseries would have a catchment area of 27000 acres while 0.4 million acres are being targeted for olive cultivation.
The Barani Agricultural Research Institute reports that the climate, temperature, soil, average rainfall and other factors in Sialkot, Narowal, Gujrat, Jhelum, Rawalpindi, Islamabad, Attock, Chakwal and Khushab suit olive cultivation.
Similarly in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Rs100 million has been earmarked for research and development on European olive, and maintenance of model olive farm at Sangbhatti.
There are millions of wild olive trees in the country which bear no or a seed-sized fruit. And the country has only 1130 acres of land under productive trees, out of an estimated 0.67-088 million hectares of wasteland suitable for olive cultivation.
Italy produces and exports millions of olive plantlets by standardising its nursery production system. To develop nurseries, Pakistan also needs to shift to tissue culture technology and open more germplasm units.
Olives are grown by budding mode and grafting on wild olive trees or planting of new trees. However, farmers have found the method of grafting the most successful.
Seedlings take long to mature and conversion of wild olives into productive cultivars is the best way. Research shows that around 80-90 per cent olive trees grown through T-bud grafting technique from August to September were successful.
The areas with an altitude ranging between 400 and 1,700 meters, slope of 20°, rainfall between 250mm and 1,000mm and a warm, semi arid, winter rain climate are most suitable for olive plants.
Olive production varies on the basis of temperature and rainfall. Rain falls abundantly in March (olive flowering season) and in summer (not typical of the olive-rich Mediterranean region).
This rain pattern poses risks for the olive cultivation–the first may heavily reduce the yield and the second- rainfall in summer— could make it prone to various plant diseases. This requires extra care and pesticides which means high cost of production. The common diseases in olive plants are trunk decay, sooty mould and peacock spot.
While olive tree usually bears fruit after 4-5 years, a farmer in Swat, however, said over 85 per cent of olive trees in the mountainous orchards dried up, and the rest began bearing fruit after 7-8 years.
An olive plant could bear over 40-45kg fruit after four years if sufficient care, protection, pesticides and fertilisers are provided.
The olive trees need more nitrogenous fertiliser than phosphorous and potash. The latter two fertilisers should be mixed in the soil before planting of trees at the rate of 200 kg and 300 kg per hectare respectively. Best time of nitrogen fertiliser is pre-flowering and stone-hardening stage.
In KP and tribal belt, too few olive nurseries and marketing worries have kept farmers away from olive plantation.