Desert state's experiment with olive cultivation

Rajasthan is more famous for its historical forts, palaces and vast tracts of desert. It also has well-known places like Pilani and Kota, the latter being famous for churning out successful IIT aspirants.

But, now the desert state is charting on an innovative course in the filed of agriculture. One of the innovative projects is the olive cultivation. In the past, a few
experiments to introduce olive cultivation elsewhere in the country ended in a failure. But, Rajasthan has tasted success as a pilot project on olive cultivation has yielded promising results.

Some four years ago, the state laun­c­hed a pilot project to promote olive. Now the plants have matured and started yielding. Expectedly, this has brought smiles on many faces. As per international standard, the oil content in seeds is between 12 and 18 per cent. The seeds from the pilot project have an oil content of 14.65 per cent and it is considered to be very promising. People involved in the project are confident that the oil content will improve as the plant gets older.

Olive is new to India as a cash crop and promises to transform the lives of farmers in the arid state and give a boost to the rural economy in Rajasthan. As exte­nsive field trials at state-owned farms are successful, Rajasthan Olive Cultivation Ltd (ROCL)-- a joint venture special purpose vehicle formed to promote olive cultivation in the state--is keen on taking up the cultivation of the Mediterranean oil crop in private farms from this year.

Now, the country imports about 9,000 metric tonnes of olive oil. Obviously, the­re is a huge market for the olive oil. Besi­des being a source of edible oil, olive has utility in the manufacture of cosmetics and also in salad dressing. Experts feel that there is great export potential. ROCL Chief Operating Officer Ajay Pachori said: “out of the seven varieties of olives for which field tests were conducted, four have been found to be suitable for the Rajasthan’s agro-climatic conditions.”

Renowned Israeli agriculture scientist Prof Simon Levi, who is considered an authority on olive, visited Rajasthan recently and favoured commercial cultivation of the cash crop. The crop is ideal in Sri Gangangar, Hanumangarh, Naga­ur and Bikaner districts which experience prolonged periods of chill during the winter season. The crop requires long periods of chilly weather for plants to bear fruits. “We are gradually introducing the cash crop to farmers in these areas. This year we have set a target of 300 hectares. Six clusters of 50 hectares each will be formed in four districts of Sri Ganganagar, Hanumangarh, BIkaner and Nagaur,” he said.

They have decided to adopt cluster approach as it is considered beneficial. “Cluster approach will help us provide free technical consultancy to the farmers for the first three years,” said Pachori. Ideally, an olive plant starts yielding fruits from fourth year onwards.

Farmers can plant 523 olive seedlings in a hectare and also can raise inter-crops like pulses.

The ROCL has ambitious plans ahead and has been sincerely working to convert this pilot project into a major succes­sful venture in the coming years. “We have already received application for 200 hectares and in 40 hectares the sowing has already been completed”, he said, adding “our target is to bring about 5,000 hectares under olive cultivation in the next three years to make it a commercially viable venture”.

The government will offer a subsidy of 75 per cent. The subsidised cost of each seedling works out to Rs 28.75, while its actual cost is Rs 115. Besides, a farmer will also be provided a 90 per cent subsidy on the drip irrigation equipment which is compulsory and offered free consultancy services.

“But we are going cautiously. We will encourage only relatively rich farmers in the first phase. Since olive depends on vagaries of nature and weather conditions, only those who could take some risk are being given   preference,” he said.

The reason being some changes noti­ced in weather pattern. Last year the chilly season was very short and it impa­cted the production. This year, the state experienced an extended rainy season, resulting in over growth of the crop.

Besides, earlier attempts to raise olive in India at Ramdan in Jammu and Kashmir and Kullu in Himachal Pradesh by some Italian companies were failures.

Pachori said there is hope for farmers as they need not have to wrack their brain on extracting oil from the fruits. The company has already placed order for the purchase of a 5-metric tonne capacity oil extracting machine, which will installed at Bikaner. The farmers would be given the option of selling the seed or oil.

A long duration crop, olive holds trem­endous economic prospects for farmers, as they could yield an income of Rs 3-3.5 lakh per hectare. “This is a two-generation crop. The life of an olive plant is about 100 years. Once the plantation is over the farmers need not make much investment except occasional training and pruning,” said ROCL manager
Yogesh Kumar Varma.

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