New Delhi: Can India become a major producer and exporter of olive oil?
The agriculture board of a desert state, a micro-irrigation firm, and an Israeli company think so. Later this week, 50,000 olive saplings of various varieties will be planted near Jaipur in Rajasthan, part of a field test to check whether this belief translates into reality.
After all, olive trees do not grow in India.
If the Jaipur experiment succeeds, the variety most adaptable to Indian conditions will be selected in June. And one million olive saplings of this variety will be sold to farmers in areas around the city by Rajasthan Olive Cultivation Ltd, a company in which the three partners behind the effort— Rajasthan State Agriculture Board, Plastro Plasson of Pune and Indolive Ltd—have equal stakes. Plastro Plasson Industries (India) Ltd is a joint venture between India and Israel in the area of micro-irrigation between Finolex Ltd of India and two Israeli companies, Plastro and Plasson. Indolive is an Israeli firm, partly funded by the government of that country, that promotes agricultural techniques.
“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,” said Lior Weintraub, a spokesman for the Israel embassy here.
“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,” he added.
A general agreement to promote olive cultivation was signed by Israel and the Rajasthan government in November 2006. The two governments took a year to finalize the details of this initiative and a joint venture agreement was signed in November 2007.
“The results (of the field tests) will show which variety adapts itself best to Rajasthan’s climate and soil, after which more of the saplings will be brought. A total of 120,000 saplings will be placed at various nurseries in the first phase,” said Mika Harari of Indolive, a company which has successfully cultivated olives in southern Israel.
The trials will be carried out on 250ha, said Rajasthan State Agriculture Marketing Board, or RSAMB. The plants will be irrigated by the very latest in drip irrigation techniques, the method of direct injection in which the roots are directly watered and nutrients added simultaneously.
“This saves 40% more water than older drip irrigation methods,” Weintraub said. He claimed that this method, called “drip-ferti” irrigation, was behind the production of 2.8 tonnes of olive oil per ha in Israel, a productivity rate that the project’s overseers hope to duplicate in Rajasthan.
Meanwhile, the Rajasthan government is seeking to woo farmers to try out olives.
“The farmers are being made aware of the market for olive oil, both domestic and export. The irrigation systems might be provided at a lower rate so that small farmers are also able to access it,” said RSAMB chairman Vipin Kumar Sharma.
Olive oil is a healthy alternative to other edible oils and the market for it around the world continues to grow. It is currently priced at around Rs800 per litre compared with groundnut oil, another popular cooking medium which is priced at Rs53-55 per litre. Around 3.2 million tonnes of olive oil is manufactured worldwide.