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 miniscule minority of the affluent classes who can afford the exorbitant price of the imported commodity. India ranks fourth in consumption of vegetable oil in the world and is a leading importer of this produce. 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” individualsis expected to rise from 118 million in 2000 to 214 millionin 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.”