Olive Farming Is Key to Saving the Forests of Balochistan

Officials and environmental activists believe olive farming and oil production could help prevent illegal logging in wild forests.

Shrinking olive forests in Balochistan
Jul. 11, 2022
By Rafiullah Mandokhail
Shrinking olive forests in Balochistan

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There is no doubt that forests play a vital role in com­bat­ing the impact of cli­mate change, mit­i­gat­ing floods, reg­u­lat­ing weather and enrich­ing bio­di­ver­sity.

However, valu­able forests in the poverty-hit Balochistan province of west­ern Pakistan are shrink­ing, and for­est degra­da­tion has con­tin­ued for decades at an alarm­ing rate.

If timely and con­crete steps are not taken imme­di­ately, the remain­ing forests will dis­ap­pear in the near future.- Sheikh Khaliq Dad Mandokhail, assis­tant direc­tor, local envi­ron­ment depart­ment

Spread over 347,190 square kilo­me­ters, form­ing nearly 44 per­cent of the total area of Pakistan, Balochistan shares bor­ders with Afghanistan and Iran. 

The esti­mated area of olive forests in the province is only 0.2 per­cent, with 80 per­cent of the forests owned by the local com­mu­ni­ties or indige­nous peo­ple. The remain­der is owned by the gov­ern­ment and man­aged by its forestry depart­ment as state forests. 

See Also:Pakistani Government Launches Agricultural Development Program

The most sig­nif­i­cant sur­viv­ing olive forests are those under the con­trol of the gov­ern­ment.

Balochistan was once known for its rich for­est cover. However, orga­nized crime enti­ties backed by local peo­ple have cut down many nat­ural forests and trans­ported the wood from one area to another. 

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A wild forest with grafted Italian and Spanish cultivars (Rafiullah Mandokhail for Olive Oil Times)

The mat­ter has been brought to the atten­tion of con­cerned author­i­ties sev­eral times but to no avail.

In the north­ern parts of Balochistan – the Zhob, Sherani and Musakhail dis­tricts – the forests fall in the mon­soon range cli­mat­i­cally. 

However, the peo­ple in this region are poor and have no alter­na­tive source for cook­ing fuel or heat in the win­ter. Pastures near the for­est are also the only suit­able places to graze their live­stock. Wild olives are used as fod­der. 

While some local com­mu­ni­ties have pledged not to cut the for­est, the eco­nomic pres­sure has left the mar­gin­al­ized com­mu­ni­ties with no other option but to cut and stock the olive wood.

Zhob – which bor­ders Afghanistan and South Waziristan – is an area of lush green moun­tains and expan­sive and diverse forests. However, ille­gal log­ging com­bined with apa­thy from local offi­cials means the wild olive groves are rapidly declin­ing.

Hussain Alam, an activist in Zhob, said law enforce­ment is either absent or belongs to the same tribe, mean­ing they will not inter­fere with ille­gal log­gers to avoid tribal feuds.

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A local farmer, Abdul Qayum (Rafiullah Mandokhail for Olive Oil Times)

The inhab­i­tants in remote and hilly areas use the olive trees as fire­wood for cook­ing and burn­ing pur­poses as fuel,” Alam said. Likewise, they usu­ally feed their cat­tle olive branches and fruit in the win­ter. The lack of avail­abil­ity of gas is one of the con­tribut­ing fac­tors.”

Forest and wildlife offi­cial Sultan Lawoon claims that poverty, illit­er­acy and unem­ploy­ment are the main fac­tors that have forced the local peo­ple to cut down the wild olive trees.

The indige­nous peo­ple not only cut the trees for fuel but also sell the wood in the open mar­ket to meet their needs,” he said.

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Checkpoint on Balochistan-Khyber Pashtoonkhwa highway to control timber smuggling (Rafiullah Mandokhail for Olive Oil Times)

Environmentalists say defor­esta­tion has a tan­gi­bly neg­a­tive impact on the area’s nat­ural beauty and the num­ber of endan­gered wild ani­mals and birds. 

Deforestation also con­tributes to drought, low rain­fall reten­tion, envi­ron­men­tal pol­lu­tion, ero­sion of fer­tile land and destruc­tion of ecosys­tems and bio­di­ver­sity. 

They add that civil soci­ety and orga­ni­za­tions work­ing on the envi­ron­ment and for­est con­ser­va­tion must take prac­ti­cal steps to pro­tect these invalu­able forests.

According to agri­cul­ture and forestry experts, if defor­esta­tion remains unchecked, these forests will become increas­ingly rare in the province. They argue that one solu­tion is to improve local com­mu­ni­ties’ eco­nomic sit­u­a­tion by pro­mot­ing olive farm­ing.

Sheikh Khaliq Dad Mandokhail, an assis­tant direc­tor at the local envi­ron­ment depart­ment, said plant­ing olives is one of the best nature-based solu­tions to reduce the risks of cli­mate change.

If timely and con­crete steps are not taken imme­di­ately, the remain­ing forests will dis­ap­pear in the near future,” he said. The Forest Department should be pro­vided with bet­ter mon­i­tor­ing tools, locals should be pro­vided with alter­na­tive fuels like gas and laws regard­ing the for­est cut­ting needs to be changed.”

Abdul Qayyum is a res­i­dent of Ghbargei, in Sherani Balochistan, which boasts abun­dant wild olive forests. 

He has grafted Spanish and Italian vari­eties with wild olive trees on about five hectares of olive trees in the local nat­ural for­est, which pro­duces between 3,000 and 4,000 liters of olive oil annu­ally.

The graft­ing mech­a­nism has been uti­lized in the hilly area,” he said. During the last har­vest­ing sea­son, I man­aged to earn 1 mil­lion rupees (€4,700) sell­ing olive oil.” 

Qayyum believes there was no crop bet­ter suited to the region than olives as they are drought-tol­er­ant and usu­ally har­vested in October. 

The olives are har­vested from the trees, and the extracted oil is trans­ported to other parts of the coun­try.

According to Forest Department sta­tis­tics, wild olive forests cover 41,000 hectares of the Sherani dis­trict, of which 6,000 hectares are owned by the Forest Department. The local com­mu­nity owns the rest. 

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Centuries-old wild olive tree in Zhob Balochistan (Rafiullah Mandokhail for Olive Oil Times)

To irri­gate the olive trees, a drip irri­ga­tion sys­tem has been installed,” Qayyum said. Twelve acres of nat­ural olive for­est were grafted with the help of the World Wildlife Fund and the UK-Aid funds, while the drip irri­ga­tion sys­tem has been installed with the help of the United Nations Development Program and the Agriculture and Water Management Department.”

Regarding the graft­ing method, Qayyum said the branches of the wild olive trees are care­fully cut, and the Spanish seedling is attached. Then, the two are joined together with the help of clay and fas­tened with plas­tic.

Grafting is usu­ally done in spring or mon­soon sea­son,” he said. There are mil­lions of wild olive trees in Zhob. If graft­ing of Spanish vari­eties is done all over the for­est, it will ulti­mately strengthen the people’s socio-eco­nomic con­di­tion and restore the lost beauty of the forests and land­scape.”

Najeebullah Mandokhail, an agri­cul­tural offi­cial in charge of olive oil extrac­tion in Balochistan, said that 50,000 olive saplings had been planted in dif­fer­ent parts of Zhob in recent years.

Neighboring Loralai is the largest olive oil pro­ducer in the province. More than one mil­lion olive trees, includ­ing Spanish and Italian vari­eties, have been planted in the region. During the recent har­vest­ing sea­son, Mandokhail claimed that 62,000 lit­ters of oil were pro­duced in the region.

One mature tree – irre­spec­tive of whether the vari­ety is for olive oil or table olives – can pro­duce 15 to 25 kilo­grams of fruit annu­ally,” he said. It takes, on aver­age, 10 kilo­grams of top-qual­ity olives to pro­duce one liter of olive oil.”

Lawoon, the Forest Department offi­cial, said the age of the olive trees is between 1,500 to 7,000 years old. 

Within three to five years, the olive branches begin to bear fruit. One hun­dred kilo­grams of wild olives yield 10 liters of oil, while one hun­dred kilo­grams of olives from grafted trees yield 22 to 28 liters of olive oil. There are 10 to 12 dif­fer­ent olive vari­eties suit­able for the cli­mate of this region.

Officials and farm­ers in the South Asian county also see plenty of oppor­tu­nity for olive oil pro­duc­tion.

Pakistan, which spends 245 bil­lion rupees (€1.16 bil­lion) on import­ing edi­ble oils yearly, has 3.17 mil­lion hectares of poten­tial area for olive farm­ing. This would allow farm­ers to pro­duce olive oil for domes­tic con­sump­tion and exports. 

The coun­try recently became the 19th mem­ber of the International Oil Council (IOC) and cur­rently pro­duces about 1,500 tons of olive oil and 830 tons of table olives annu­ally.

In June 2022, Italy announced it would invest in devel­op­ing olive cul­ti­va­tion and tech­ni­cal exper­tise in the two-year Olive Culture’ project worth €1.5 mil­lion.

Italy had pre­vi­ously invested in Pakistani olive grow­ing oper­a­tions through the tech­ni­cal sup­port of the Italian Agency for Development Cooperation in Pakistan. 

The coun­try has plenty of poten­tial for olive pro­duc­tion, with 3.6 mil­lion trees cov­er­ing 12,500 hectares already and plans to plant 10 mil­lion more on an addi­tional 30,400 hectares.

Balochistan is con­sid­ered a highly promis­ing province for olive tree cul­ti­va­tion and will boast more than 500,000 trees on 3,800 hectares by 2024. This alone is expected to gen­er­ate 1.16 bil­lion rupees (€5.5 mil­lion) and pro­duce 16,000 tons of olive oil by 2027.


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