ISLAMABAD    -    Pakistan can end its dependence on ed­ible oil imports for meeting domestic needs by increasing investments in ol­ive oil farming and extraction.

“There is great potential for olive pro­duction in Pakistan as the country has vast tracts of land suitable for planta­tions and grafting of the millions of wild olive trees,” said an official of the Board of Investment while talking to WealthPK. According to him, Pakistan can also ex­port olives and other by-products if olive farming is done on a commercial scale.

The official said that Pakistan imports about $3.5 billion worth of edible oil annu­ally. “There is a need to reduce imports by setting up olive oil extraction units and in­creasing olive tree farming, which will en­hance exports, generate jobs, and improve the living conditions of people.” According to Dr Abdur Rehman, Senior Research Of­ficer at the Agriculture Research Institute, Tarnab Peshawar, Pakistan’s imports of ed­ible oil include canola, sunflower, soybean and olive oil. “Pakistan imports more than 4,000 tonnes of olive oil annually. Promot­ing olive cultivation in the country will reduce olive oil imports, reduce poverty and improve the livelihood of the farming community.” He pointed out that the for­mer Fata region and Dir districts in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa have millions of wild olive trees that could be converted into com­mercial olive varieties by grafting. He said Swat, Nowshera and Abbottabad districts boast great potential for olive plantations. There are also suitable areas for olive cul­tivation in the Punjab’s Potohar region and Balochistan as well. According to Dr Abdur Rehman, the extra virgin olive oil produced in Pakistan is of the same quality as that found in Spain and Italy, which are two of the largest producers and exporters of olive oil. He said that an olive tree starts production five years after plantation. “On average, 200 to 300 litres of olive oil can be produced per acre,” he explained.

The agriculture expert said the govern­ment is working on a plan to distribute plant varieties from Spain, Italy and Tur­key among farmers. “These varieties have a high percentage of producing quality olive oil,” he said, adding farmers are be­ing trained in olive orchard management, harvesting and oil extraction. WealthPK research shows that there is a wide variety of soils, ecological zones and climate con­ditions in Pakistan suitable for olive plan­tation. The country has over four million hectares of suitable land for planting olive trees, potentially making it one of the most olive-growing countries in the world.