Research-Focused Conference in Pakistan Showcases the Potential of Olive Cultivation

The PakOlive conference focused on olive oil as a strategic crop in the face of climate change and the need to focus on quality and exports.
PakOlive via Facebook
By Daniel Dawson
Jun. 15, 2023 19:37 UTC

More than 35 sci­en­tists and PhD can­di­dates pre­sented their lat­est research find­ings at Pakistan’s third annual olive value chain con­fer­ence on June 7th.

The con­fer­ence, which the Center of Excellence for Olive Research and Training (Cefort) hosted with PakOlive, gath­ered sci­en­tists, farm­ers and other pub­lic and pri­vate sec­tor stake­hold­ers in Chakwal, a small city sit­u­ated 100 kilo­me­ters south of Islamabad in the heart of Punjab’s olive grow­ing region.

We are try­ing to develop an olive cul­ture. Whatever is being pro­duced must be of good qual­ity, and the farmer must receive a good return for what they pro­duce.- Muhammad Ramzan Anser, deputy project direc­tor, Cefort

The pre­sen­ta­tions focused on devel­op­ing olive cul­ti­va­tion as a cli­mate-resis­tant crop, bol­ster­ing coop­er­a­tion among the links of the olive oil pro­duc­tion value chain, improv­ing rural liveli­hoods through olive grow­ing and improv­ing grow­ing and milling tech­nol­ogy.

Muhammad Ramzan Anser, an agron­o­mist and the deputy project direc­tor at Cefort, told Olive Oil Times that the con­fer­ence’s goal is to improve the prof­itabil­ity of olive grow­ing in Pakistan through research and fundrais­ing.

See Also:Olive Farming Is Key to Saving the Forests of Balochistan

According to Ramzan, Cefort is doing this by inte­grat­ing the knowl­edge and efforts of the pub­lic and pri­vate sec­tors. He added that the olive cen­ter also works with inter­na­tional part­ners to secure fund­ing and exper­tise for new projects.

One of the orga­ni­za­tion’s main goals is to plant olive trees on four mil­lion hectares of mar­ginal land in Pakistan, which Ramzan said helps pre­vent deser­ti­fi­ca­tion and ero­sion.

Olives are help­ing us to com­bat the chal­lenges posed by cli­mate change and also pro­vide a good liveli­hood to those com­mu­ni­ties which have very lim­ited options out­side agri­cul­ture,” he said.

Pakistan hosts about 5 mil­lion olive trees planted on 17,000 hectares, with wide­spread olive cul­ti­vat­ing efforts begin­ning in earnest in 2016. According to Ramzan, Pakistan pro­duced 86 tons of mostly vir­gin and extra vir­gin olive oil in the 2022/23 crop year.

If you com­pare the num­ber of trees with the fruit yield, it seems very low, but that is because of the age of our orchards,” Ramzan said. Most of them are not yet fully mature.”

He added that the pro­duc­tion poten­tial of already-planted groves is expected to reach 1,400 tons annu­ally. In a 2020 inter­view with Olive Oil Times, PakOlive project direc­tor Muhammad Tariq said he expected pro­duc­tion to exceed 10,000 tons annu­ally by 2027.

Previous research from Cefort has iden­ti­fied the 12 olive vari­eties with the high­est com­mer­cial poten­tial in the coun­try, includ­ing Arbequina, Arbosana, Koroneiki, Picual, Hojiblanca and Gemlik.

Constructing the nec­es­sary milling infra­struc­ture has also been a sig­nif­i­cant part of Cefort’s pro­mo­tional efforts. Ramzan said there are now 20 mod­ern olive mills around the coun­try that trans­form olives free of charge for farm­ers.

He added that Cefort also advises farm­ers on when to begin the har­vest. Separately, a cer­ti­fi­ca­tion lab is being built in Islamabad to test the qual­ity of the oil pro­duced around the coun­try.

We are try­ing to develop an olive cul­ture,” he said. Whatever is being pro­duced must be of good qual­ity, and the farmer must receive a good return for what they pro­duce.”

Due to the immense eth­nic and lin­guis­tic diver­sity within Pakistan – more than 77 lan­guages are spo­ken across the world’s fifth most pop­u­lous coun­try – Cefort has also launched social media sup­port groups for olive farm­ers on Facebook and WhatsApp.

Anyone in the coun­try who has any ques­tions related to pre-har­vest or post-har­vest oper­a­tions can ask in the group and receive an answer in their native lan­guage,” Ramzan said.


He added that Cefort is also devel­op­ing a mobile appli­ca­tion allow­ing farm­ers to sub­mit ques­tions and receive answers on their smart­phones.

As a result of invest­ment and devel­op­ment of the sec­tor, Ramzan said there are already 15 domes­tic brands bot­tling their olive oil.

However, he believes that the cur­rent macro­eco­nomic sit­u­a­tion in Pakistan will result in a large por­tion of locally-pro­duced oils being exported rather than remain­ing in the domes­tic mar­ket.

According to World Bank trade data, Pakistan exported slightly more than $1.9 mil­lion of vir­gin and extra vir­gin olive oil to seven coun­tries in Europe, Africa and Oceania in 2022.

The largest share of exports went to Mozambique, fol­lowed by Canada, the United Kingdom, Angola, Australia, South Africa and Tanzania.

Still, a sig­nif­i­cant trade deficit remains, with the coun­try import­ing more than $6.7 mil­lion worth of olive oil in all of its frac­tions from Spain, Italy, Turkey, Azerbaijan, Portugal, Germany, France and Brazil.

Pakistan has been actively work­ing to reduce its trade deficit to meet bud­get require­ments for a $2.5 bil­lion loan from the International Monetary Fund. The loan is needed to replen­ish the coun­try’s for­eign cur­rency reserves, which are insuf­fi­cient for a sin­gle month of imports.

Pakistan banned nonessen­tial” food and cloth­ing imports last year to reduce for­eign spend­ing but carved out an exemp­tion for olive oil. The coun­try also suf­fers from record-high infla­tion, mak­ing most imported olive oils cheaper than locally pro­duced ones.

As a result, Hazan said pro­mot­ing extra vir­gin olive oil exports should be a strate­gic objec­tive to pro­vide more value to farm­ers and improve the coun­try’s trade deficit.

The response from the mar­ket, which we are see­ing, is that in the last three years, the export of this olive oil on a pilot scale has started,” he said. Within the next two or three years, this qual­ity of olive oil exports will reach high-end mar­kets.”


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