Turning Potohar into olive growing
By Ahmad Fraz Khan
4, 2011: Though Punjab has declared it as an olive area but
it is still to come up with concrete medium- and long-term
planning for the crop. – File Photo
THE Punjab government has earmarked its barani (Potohar)
region as olive area. That rekindles hopes among economists
that it has woken up to the potential of the crop,
and the role it can play in bringing down the edible oil
One hopes that this time the provincial government follows
up its decision to tap the crop’s potential. History is not
on its side though; for the last four decades,
the governments, both federal and provincial, came up with
numerous projects to develop olive plants in the country and
reduce edible oil import bill, which now stands
second only to petroleum products. Oil, thus in both forms,
is draining the economy beyond its capacity.
Among a long list of crops that can produce edible oil,
olive assumes added significance for its medicinal usage –
it does not cause high cholesterol. Olive oil thus
has a high value for Pakistanis, who are among the top users
of oil in the world, with 13kg per person per year
consumption. But last four decades chronicles failed
attempts to produce olive plants, leave alone oil, locally.
It may be time to revisit, and learn from those failed
attempts especially when agriculture stands devolved
One lesson could be that all our local attempts to produce
olive have failed because of lack of capacity of our
scientists and those trying to replicate olive
production here. One can safely say that it was matter of
capacity because both soil and climate support production of
local olive. Granted that it is hard-to-root
plants and success rate world over is not very high. But it
is certainly as low as the case has turned out to be in
Thus it may also be time to involve some international
company, which can build certain, and limited, model olive
area, which others can follow. There are many
European firms that can do the job. Pakistan’s barani
(rain-fed) area is larger than of many countries making name
in olive export. There is thus no reason why
Pakistan can not only bring its edible oil import bill down
but also earn foreign exchange. It is a matter of time,
effort and planning.
Though Punjab has declared it as an olive area but it is
still to come up with concrete medium- and long-term
planning for the crop. How much money it would spend in
the area to promote plantation? After all, it takes almost
five years before the plants
start yielding the produce and given the scale of poverty in
these areas, farmer can hardly wait that long.
The Punjab government should also announce a buyback
arrangement so that farmers know that they would not be
risking next five years’ labour at the altar of official
experiment. Apart from buyback arrangements, investment in
value addition should also be part of the olive planning.
The provincial government should firm up all these
contours of olive policy if it does not want its efforts
going the way all the earlier ones went. The current one
should not become a project for project sake, and
drag on provincial resources.
Apart from olive, Punjab also needs to develop other crops
that yield edible oil. So far, the entire attention has been
focused on olive at the cost of others. The
province, and the country, has ended up with neither. Most
of brassica crops – like sunflower and canola – are Rabi
crops and compete with wheat and gram for space.
But better planning for both these crops can easily spare
There are a number of wheat seeds available in the market
that could double the current average yield in the country.
It is a matter of planning and promotion. The
gram yield has in fact dropped in the last 63 years; it is
lower than in 1947. It only goes to prove that sparing soil
should not be a problem for the country with
Then there are minor crops like sesamum, which is shorter
and single-irrigation crop that can produce oil. Pakistan
has been exporting sesmum to the tune of Rs700
million but has not been able to turn the crop into one
reducing oil import bill. It is because of official neglect
of the crop. There are hybrid seeds available in
the market that can increase the yield by three to four
times. But they have neither been acknowledged nor promoted.
The current seed is susceptible to all kinds of
diseases and on many occasions farmers lost their entire
crop to blight. Thus bringing new seeds is need of the hour.
Similarly, moringa is another option. The official planners
need to consider local wisdom and knowledge before chalking
out projects and grand plans. Olive attempts
have failed because there was no local knowledge to back it
up. In case of other edible oil crops, there is experience
of centuries and farmers are completely
comfortable with those crops. It is not to suggest that
olive should drop down the priority list, but only to argue
that local crops are much easier and much cheaper
Bureaucratic grand ideas, which they borrow from other parts
of the world, become hard and expensive to replicate.
Without yielding quick results, they fall out of
political favour and get lost. This has been by and large
pattern of all agriculture projects implemented in the
country so far.
The Punjab government would do well to save the olive
initiative going the same way. That is why it needs to
meticulously plan the project from a-to-z, allocate
finances for it and let some foreign consultants do the job
on a limited scale. The local companies can follow them
along side. Meanwhile, it should also plan for
other oil-yielding crops and save the billions of dollars
being spent on oil import bill.
Courtesy: The DAWN