Rs382 mln project to produce ‘made in Pakistan’ olives begins to bear fruit

  • Sole facility in Chakwal has extracted 65 tons of oil from the fruit this year alone, experts say
  • More than 1mln trees planted across 8,000 acres of land in Pothwar region

KARACHI/ISLAMABAD: Pakistanis could soon be consuming locally-extracted, extra virgin olive oil as the country boosts its commercial production, following a collaboration with Italy, officials told on Friday.

Heavily-dependant on imported olive oil for its use, Pakistan began a revolutionarily project in 2012 by planting saplings in the tough terrain of the Pothwar region which includes Rawalpindi, Chakwal, Jhelum and Attock.

“In 2012, the Italian government initiated a multi-million funded project titled (Promotion of Olive Cultivation for Economic Development and Poverty Alleviation) signed by Pakistan Agriculture Research Council and Pakistan Italian Debt for Development Swap Agreement (PIDSA),” the Oilseed Development Board told Arab News in an email interview on Friday.

It added that the project was aimed at strengthening public/private partnership for the cultivation of olived on a commercial scale, extraction of olive oil, creation of direct and indirect job opportunities – thereby contributing toward poverty alleviation – saving important foreign exchange, making use of marginal and forest lands, and promoting a healthy ecosystem.

The Rs.382 million project aims to enhance local production and curtail the country’s import of olive oil, which is currently billed at around 4,000-5,000 metric tons.

“We have so far extracted extra virgin oil from the 65 tons of olive fruits in the oil extraction facility located at Barani Agriculture Research Institute BARI in Chakwal,” Inam-ul-Haq, Horticulturist at BARI, told Arab News on Friday.

“The institute provides free extraction services to the olive farmers at the country’s only facility,” he added.

The government aims to develop the Pothwar region into an olive valley at a cost of Rs 2629.786 million with the sole objective of cultivating olives on 15,100 acres of land with the provision of 2,038,500 certified nursery plants, BARI said.

“We have planted more than a million olive trees that cover more than 8000 acres of land in Pothwar region,” Inam-ul-Haq said, adding that due to the success of the project, a significant production of olive plants and extraction of its oil “through public private cooperation is underway.”

Farmers, for their part, are expecting to replace imports with locally produced olive oil to a large extent, too.

“Earlier, the country’s reliance was 100 percent on imported olive oil but after the commencement of the local production, we are sure that within the next four years we would be able to substantially replace imports with local oil, if not totally replaced,” Basit Shakeel Hashmi, an olive farmer, told Arab News on Friday.

On Tuesday, Stefano Pontecorvo, Italy’s ambassador in Pakistan, tweeted photos of the first locally-manufactured “Pak olive”, adding that it would “soon be available in shops through an excellent, productive partnership”.

“Italy has become one of the most reliable olive exporters to Pakistan. In this context, H.E. Stefano the Ambassador of Italy to Pakistan is playing a pivotal role,” the Oilseed Development Board said.

Farmers, too, are optimistic that the locally-manufactured olive oil will find its place in the country’s stores as it meets international standards and is fairly priced. At the moment, fFlarmers are selling local oil between Rs 2,500 ($16) to Rs 4,000 ($25.70) per liter.

“Pakistan’s olive oil is 100 percent extra virgin but due to lack of food laws implementation the imported oil’s quality remains questionable,” Tariq Mehmood, an olive farmer, told Arab News, adding that the country needs to implement food laws “to check the inflow of substandard edible goods”.

Mehmood said that he is expecting around 11,000 to 12,000 kilograms from his farm, which has been declared as a model example, wherefrom he markets his product under the “Oil Garden” brand.