`An Olive Oil Experiment in India - Olive Oil Times

An Olive Oil Experiment in India

Jul. 3, 2010
Gita Narrayani

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Olive oil is well known for its health prop­er­ties and exten­sively used for cook­ing in the Mediterranean coun­tries. In India, it is mainly used in mas­sage, facials and other beauty treat­ments.

The use of olive oil as a cook­ing medium is not widely preva­lent and restricted to the minus­cule minor­ity of the afflu­ent classes who can afford the exor­bi­tant price of the imported com­mod­ity. India ranks fourth in the con­sump­tion of veg­etable oil in the world and is a lead­ing importer of this prod­uct. Edible oil imports to the coun­try are around 5.4 mil­lion tonnes mak­ing India third in total imports of edi­ble oil in the global econ­omy.

India’s Health Issues

The pop­u­lar­ity of olive oil is grow­ing, though again con­fined to the afflu­ent mid­dle class and it has gone up from 2300 tonnes in 2007 to 4500 tonnes in 2008. By 2012, there is a pro­jected increase to 42,000 tonnes, which would be fueled mainly by the wide­spread con­cern about car­dio­vas­cu­lar dis­ease (CVD) and other health prob­lems. CVD is now the lead­ing cause of death in India and the risk fac­tors are also on the rise. India is now the dia­betes cap­i­tal of the world and CVD is also poised to be a seri­ous health con­cern in the near future. The count of hyper­ten­sive” indi­vid­u­als is expected to rise from 118 mil­lion in 2000 to 214 mil­lion in 2025. CVD strikes early and kills peo­ple in their pro­duc­tive mid-life years. The World Health Organization esti­mates that India would lose US$ 237 bil­lion due to heart dis­ease, stroke and dia­betes in the next 7 years.

The Importance of Olive Oil

These alarm­ing pro­jec­tions make the con­sump­tion of olive oil all the more impor­tant and the key focus should be on avail­abil­ity and price. The high price of imported olive oil makes it inac­ces­si­ble to the major­ity of the pop­u­la­tion and local cul­ti­va­tion is one way to bring the prices down to an afford­able level.

Olive oil is rich in monoun­sat­u­rated fats, antiox­i­dants and vit­a­min E and is claimed to have a sig­nif­i­cant effect on cho­les­terol. Using olive oil as a cook­ing medium can lower blood pres­sure and pre­vent risk of heart attacks. There are numer­ous other ben­e­fits of olive oil mak­ing it a vital addi­tion in a healthy diet and India’s CVD and dia­betes issues can cer­tainly be mit­i­gated with this heart-healthy cook­ing medium.

Olive Oil Cultivation

Olive oil cul­ti­va­tion has now spread to many new places in the world includ­ing India. It is now preva­lent in Australia, Croatia and Chile. Spain con­tin­ues to be the lead­ing pro­ducer with Italy sec­ond. With the advances in tech­nol­ogy, mechan­i­cal har­vest­ing and other devices have reduced labor and made it more cost-effi­cient.


In India, Rajasthan is the loca­tion for the first exper­i­ment in olive cul­ti­va­tion. The com­pany Rajasthan Olive Cultivation Ltd (ROCL) is a 3‑way col­lab­o­ra­tion between the Rajasthan State Agriculture Board, Plastro Plasson of Pune and Indolive Ltd, all of which have equal shares. Plastro Plasson Industries (India) Ltd is a joint ven­ture between Finolex Ltd of India and two Israeli com­pa­nies and deals in micro-irri­ga­tion, while Indolive is an Israeli com­pany which is par­tially funded by the Israeli gov­ern­ment, which pro­motes tech­niques in agri­cul­ture.

Lior Weintraub, a spokesman for the Israel embassy has said, A project such as this, where a new kind of tree is being intro­duced in a water-scarce envi­ron­ment, hinges on the irri­ga­tion sys­tem used. So the olive project is as much about drip irri­ga­tion as it is about trans­form­ing Rajasthan into a major olive grower. The main rea­son the project was con­sid­ered for Rajasthan was the sim­i­lar­i­ties in cli­mate and cul­ti­va­tion prob­lems in the state and Israel. However, there are major dif­fer­ences in soil and other fac­tors which will have to be addressed.”

An agree­ment was signed between Israel and the Rajasthan state gov­ern­ment in 2006 and the deal was final­ized and a joint ven­ture agree­ment was signed in 2007. A 30-hectare field in the small vil­lage of Basbisna some 160 km from the cap­i­tal Jaipur, is the loca­tion for this exper­i­ment. The field tests had shown which vari­ety could adapt itself best to the cli­mate and soil of this region. A 3‑year agri­cul­tural plan will intro­duce many crops from the Middle East and the Mediterranean to India and it is hoped that the coun­try would be an exporter of olive oil by the year 2011.

Saplings of high-yield­ing olives just an inch in size were brought from Israel, grown to a height of 1.5 meters in nurs­eries and then trans­planted to the fields here. The plants will be irri­gated with the lat­est in drip irri­ga­tion tech­nol­ogy, where the roots are watered directly and nutri­ents added along with it. This method saves 40% more water than the older method and has been the rea­son behind the high yield of 2.8 tonnes of olive per hectare in Israel, which they hope to dupli­cate in Rajasthan.

Israel’s Involvement

Apart from the plants and the joint ven­ture agree­ment with the Rajasthan gov­ern­ment, Israel has been involved in every step of the inter­est­ing exper­i­ment. The drip irri­ga­tion tech­nol­ogy and other water recy­cling tech­niques have ush­ered in the green­ing of the Negev desert region”, regarded as an agri­cul­tural mir­a­cle.

Indolive one of the stake­hold­ers in ROCL is a com­pany that has suc­cess­fully cul­ti­vated olives in south­ern Israel. Two com­pa­nies from Israel, which spe­cial­ize in the lat­est drip irri­ga­tion tech­nol­ogy, are also part of Plastro Plasson Industries (India) Ltd, which is another stake­holder in ROCL.

Out of an ini­tial invest­ment of Rs 60 mil­lion (about US$1.3 mil­lion) likely to be made on the project, the Israeli com­pany is con­tribut­ing Rs 15 mil­lion (about US$325,000), with the Agriculture Marketing Board putting in another 15 mil­lion and the remain­ing Rs 30 mil­lion (US$750,000) bor­rowed from Indian banks.

Gideon Peleg is the Israeli tech­ni­cal man­ager, who is over­see­ing the entire pilot project and Indolive has already pre-bought the har­vest to be cul­ti­vated in the project.

The Future

The Rajasthan gov­ern­ment is try­ing hard to get local farm­ers inter­ested in olive cul­ti­va­tion. They are being informed about olive oil and its demand both in India and over­seas. The low cost and pos­i­tive feed­back have excited the farm­ers in the region. The olive trees have been planted in rows which are 7 meters apart, to enable ground­nut cul­ti­va­tion in the land between the rows. This would help the farm­ers to start earn­ing even before the olive trees begin to bear fruit. Olive trees take 3 and a half years to bear fruit and then they keep pro­duc­ing them for more than 500 years. The farm­ers in Basbisna and 6 other places where the pilot project has been ini­ti­ated are now wait­ing for the trees to bear fruit, to see and sell their first olives.

As men­tioned, the olives have already been bought by an Israeli firm, which is also set­ting up an oil press­ing plant and is plan­ning to sell the olive oil over­seas. All stake­hold­ers are also expect­ing a rise in domes­tic demand for olive oil with grow­ing health con­cerns. This pro­jected growth is a source of great hope to the hard-work­ing local farm­ers and the ROCL.

There are how­ever sev­eral chal­lenges to be faced in this fledg­ling attempt to grow olives in Indian soil. In the Israeli desert, tem­per­a­tures reach a high of 40 degrees Celsius, whereas in Rajasthan it can go up to 49 degrees. The sear­ing heat is aggra­vated by strong, sul­try winds, which can singe the del­i­cate olive trees and destroy them. In the 7 olive plan­ta­tions, how­ever, great pains have been taken to pro­tect the trees from the strong winds. Special bam­boo sup­ports have been built for the trees together with sen­sors to mon­i­tor the health of each plant. The trees have also been planted on undu­lat­ing land, which are encir­cled by trop­i­cal, ever­green forests, which would ensure addi­tional pro­tec­tion from the heat and wind.

Everything is now in place for the project to suc­ceed, accord­ing to Gideon Peleg, the Israeli tech­ni­cal man­ager.

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