Following a successful olive cultivation project in the desert state of Rajasthan, India’s most economically vibrant state of Gujarat has turned its attention to olive production. The government of Gujarat, with its reputation as one of the most enterprising state governments in India, has funded a pilot project to grow olive trees in the state. The government’s economic advisors believe that olives can potentially transform the fortunes of local farmers, considering the large global demand for olive oil.
The project has been launched by the S.D. Agricultural University (SDAU) of Gujarat in collaboration with an Israeli firm, Asia Everest Limited (AEL). AEL has supplied 84,000 olive saplings of four eastern Mediterranean varieties for the project. It plans to buy back the yield from this project at international prices. Work is also underway to set up a processing plant in Gujarat within the next 18 months, which will produce olive oil as well as other value added products.
Dr. S.B.S. Tikka, the director of research at SDAU says that the saplings will be transplanted at five different locations in the field during this monsoon season. Coratina, Barnea, Picholine and Manzanilla varieties of olives will be grown at these locations spread over an area of 400 acres. These varieties require a hot climate to produce superior quality olives.
In the first phase of the project, which began last year, SDAU had allotted 200 acres of land to grow about 2,000 olive trees. On June 15, 2011 these trees will be shifted from the nursery to the field, which will mark the completion of the first phase of the project. The second phase includes educating the farmers through comprehensive training programs scheduled for June and July this year.
New protocols and techniques of tissue culture are under development as a part of the project. The aim is to propagate vegetative cultivation of olives among Indian farmers. Several thousand farmers have visited the olive farms already, and rich farmers have shown a keen desire to participate in the project. The third and final phase of the project will focus on commercial production of olive and promotion of olive oil exports from India.
India has been witnessing a booming demand for olive oil for the last five years. The annual consumption has been growing at a rate of 30 percent, which is expected to rise further as the Indian economy expands. According to the International Olive Council, a strong Indian economy and the global exposure of Indians in recent years has led to an increased consumption of olive oil in urban India. By next year the annual demand is expected to touch 42,000 tons to feed the growing appetite of the affluent Indian consumer for healthy foods.