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An investment for life

Pakistan has a great potential for olive cultivation that can earn about $10 billion

An investment for life

Encouraged with initial results, Pakistan is now bracing up for the promotion of olive plantation, expansion of olive oil use as well as olive fruit’s by-products and value-added products, including olive pickle, jam and biscuits.

As the new plantations have started yielding fruit, Pakistan Agricultural Research Council (PARC) has signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with two companies in the private sector for promoting olive products and making arrangements to buy the produce from farmers.

The MoU aims at assisting olive farmers in the disposal of their harvest and its timely processing for obtaining extra virgin olive oil. As per MoU’s terms, PARC will facilitate both the companies in purchasing the fruit from private farmers and in maintaining the quality of olive products as well as their quality testing facilities. On their part, the two companies, namely Eastern Marketing Services (Olive-Pakistan) Lahore and Unique Value (Private) Limited Chakwal, will contribute five per cent of their income to the olive promotion project “PARC/PATCO.”

In 2014, 25-30 tonnes of the country’s maiden harvest hit the local markets; while this year, the local olive production is expected to rise gradually as the trees already planted mature and new plantations start bearing fruit. The country has already geared efforts for increasing the area under olive plantations. In the last two years alone, the area under olive cultivation increased by over 3,100 acres.

The olive tree starts bearing fruit from the fourth year of its cultivation, yielding an income of about Rs50,000 per acre. But, it gives good harvest and income from the sixth year onwards when the income from it gradually increases every year with the maturity of plant and rises up to Rs200,000 per acre.

Olive fruit matures during August to September. Harvesting is accomplished by picking the fruit singly for obtaining good quality oil and pickle, but this mode is time consuming and expensive. Alternately, it is harvested either by shaking branches and collecting dropped fruit, or mechanically whereby machine grips trunk and shakes branches.

In addition to Potohar, over 800,000 hectares of land in Balochistan and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa has been identified as having great potential for growing olives.

Pakistan has a great potential for olive cultivation, say experts, and earning about US$ 10 billion by bringing its cultivable potential wastelands under olive cultivation besides converting eight million wild olive trees, present in different regions, into productive trees through grafting.

In addition to Potohar, over 800,000 hectares of land in Balochistan and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa has been identified as having great potential for growing olives. If exploited, olive can considerably reduce the country’s import bill for edible oils, which is currently over $3.3 billion. On maturity, the new plantation, according to experts, may earn for the nation US$9 billion annually whereas the grafting of wild olive groves can yield an income of US$ one billion annually. By producing job opportunities on a large scale in rural areas, olive plantation will be helpful in poverty reduction efforts in the countryside.

An integral part of diet in the Mediterranean region, olive is believed to be one of the earliest trees cultivated by man. Native to Asia, olive belongs to oleaceae family and comprises 30 genera with 600 species. However, its popular varieties include: Alfonso, Arbequina, Ascolane, Atalanti, Dry Cured, Elitses, Farga Aragon, Gaeta, Kalamata, Manzanilla, Nafplion and Nicoise.

In South Asia, wild olive (olea Cuspida) is found within the northwest Himalayas and other adjoining hills, but cultivated olive (olea Europea) was not grown, till recently, on commercial scale. In Pakistan, olive is known as Zytoon in Urdu, Showan in Pushtu, Khat in Brahavi and Kow in Punjabi, Sindhi and Saraiki.

Mentioned seven times in the Holy Quran, the health benefits of olive have been propounded in Tibb-e-Nabvi (The Holy Prophet’s system of medicine). According to Hazrath Abu Hurairah, the Holy Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) said: “Eat olive oil and apply it (locally), since there is cure for 70 diseases in it, one of them is leprosy.” Hazrat Alqama bin Amir quotes the Holy Prophet (PBUH) as saying: “There is olive oil for you, eat it, massage it over your body, since it is effective in Heamorrhoids (Piles).” Yet another Hadith, narrated by Hazrat Aqba Bin Amir, quotes the Holy Prophet (PBUH) to have said: “You have the olive oil from this holy tree, treat yourself with this, since it cures anal fissure.”

The secret of the olive tree is in two things: its fruit and its over 20 feet massive underground root system, which enables the tree to withstand droughts and produce olives for hundreds of years even after it may appear to be lifeless.

Unlike most unsaturated plant oils, which come from seeds, monounsaturated olive oil is obtained from the pulp or fruit mesocarp. Virgin olive oil is obtained from the first pressing.

The Vitamin E contained in olives is the body’s primary fat-soluble antioxidant, which helps strengthen the digestion and body’s immune system; reducing cholesterol level, severity of asthma, cancer, osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, and premature ageing as well as delaying the effects of ageing, including wrinkles.

Monounsaturated fats are an important part of human diet. These oils prevent cholesterol from sticking to artery walls, thus combating against heart disease, strokes and high blood pressure; while also helping to control blood sugar, a big plus in offering protection against diabetes. Though a low calorie light food, olives are very filling and quickly satisfy hunger.

Olives contain compounds called polyphenols that appear to have significant anti-inflammatory properties. Used as balm, olive fortifies limbs and hair, keeping the later shiny and dandruff free. When applied to body, it fortifies and moisturizes the skin, softening it, combating inflammation and dry skin. It combats acne, aches and pains from tired muscles.

Tea prepared from olive leaves helps against high blood pressure; while decoction of olive leaves in water is effective against mouth and lip ulcers and allergic dermatitis. The concentrated aqueous extract of olive leaves and fruits is effective against dental cavities and its application shows good effects on leukoplaquea in mouth. When this solution is applied with vinegar on alopecia, it grows the hair and removes alopecia.

Local application of this extract removes scars of small pox and boils. Powder of its seeds, mixed with butter, is effective in brittle nails; and pickles prepared from olive fruits — a good appetizer — removes constipation. The smashed leaves of olive, when applied locally, check excessive perspiration. The juice of its leaves, with honey, is used as eardrops and effective cure for various ailments of the ear.

The oil procured by burning of olive wood is effective against fungal infections, like ringworm, T. versicolor, eczema, psoriasis, dandruff and alopecia. The application of olive oil in eyes relieves inflammation, while its massage tones up the body muscles/organs and relieves muscular pains. Some physicians also advocate olive oil massage for epilepsy. It relieves the sciatic and arthritis.

The ointments prepared from olive oil are good healing agents, which quickly heal sinus and fistula. Some 25ml of olive oil, when mixed with 250ml of barley water, if taken internally, is highly effective against chronic constipation.

It is a good diuretic, hence is used in ascites. It also removes kidney stones. A conventional regimen, comprising of olive oil and herbal drugs, dissolves and expels gallbladder stones.

The best olive production and fruit quality occurs in areas having mild winter and long warm dry summer. Olive trees can be planted during spring and fall. However, fall is best if there is no likelihood of frost during winter. Although olive is a hardy tree, it requires timely irrigation during the early two years. If it does not rain, trees should be irrigated twice or thrice in a year, preferably before flowering, after flowering and 30-45 days before fruit maturing. However, olive plant does not need much water, fertilizer and pesticide.

For pickle making, olive fruit is harvested when it is light green. When the fruit turns purplish in October, it is harvested for oil. Some olive oil processing units have already been installed in KP, Punjab and Balochistan. According to experts, one ton of oil can be extracted from olive trees over one hectare of land.

Olive plantations are investment for life, according to experts, as these plants live for generations. Farmers can plant olive and grow other crops, like wheat, on the same land as these trees are planted in rows leaving a space of six feet from each other. Because of its hardy nature, olive can also flourish on marginal land.

Alauddin Masood

alauddin masood
The writer is a freelance columnist based at Islamabad. He can be reached at [email protected]

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