Rajasthan has managed to strike oil. Encouraged by the success of its pilot olive production project, the state government is planning to begin commercial extraction of the oil of the fruit to reduce the burden on imports.
Pushing its luck, it also plans to launch its own brand of olive oil.
The demand for olive oil in the country is completely dependent on import. Last year, India imported 11,000 metric tonne of the oil. The demand is expected to touch 42,000 metric tonne by 2025.
After an extensive on-field research and several trials at state-owned farms, the Rajasthan Olive Cultivation Ltd (ROCL) a joint venture special purpose vehicle set up to promote cultivation of olive in the state has started helping private farms keen on taking up cultivation of the Mediterranean crop.
ROCL is expecting commercial production from these farms to pick up in three to four years. If things go as planned, ROCL will launch its own commercial brand.
Yogesh Kumar Verma, ROCL manager (site development), says olive will be cultivated on 5,000 hectares of land split into clusters of 50 hectares each in five districts. “ROCL is working on converting this into a successful venture.
The process of sowing has been completed in 84 hectares of land. We have got requests to complete sowing on another 300 hectares of land.”
Cluster production is believed to be the most beneficial. “It will help provide free technical consultation to farmers for the first three years,” says Verma. ROCL will cover 75% of the plantation cost. Farmers will get Rs3,000 to buy chemical and fertilisers. Technical aid will be provided to each cluster.
Verma says ROCL is mulling over several options to make olive oil commercially viable. “Several companies are ready to buy olive fruit grown on ROCL’s farms, but a decision has not yet been taken. The company may auction the fruit cultivated on its farms. But in future, when the crop is grown on private farms, ROCL may launch its own brand.”
Several leading experts on olive production believe that Rajasthan’s climate will give a high yield of olives. Gideon Peleg, an Israeli national who is a technical manager at ROCL, says as per international standards, the oil content in the fruit is between 12% and 18%.
Seeds from Rajasthan’s pilot project yielded an oil content of 14.65%, which is on par with global qualities. The content of oil improves as the plant ages. “Currently, we are expecting 1.5 tonne of oil per hectare and it will go up to 2.5 tonne per hectare,” says Peleg.
The process of setting up a plant to begin extraction of olive oil has begun at Loonkaransar in Bikaner district. The plant, to cost Rs3 crore, is expected to produce 500 tonne of oil in an hour. “We have purchased the machine. It will be installed in a fortnight,” says Verma.
To ensure a larger yield, seven varieties of the crop Barnea, Arbequina, Cortina, Picholine, Picual, Corinoiky and Frontoy have been planted in ROCL’s farms.
The project drew its inspiration from the success story of Israel’s Negev desert, where climatic conditions are similar to Rajasthan’s.
The idea was sown after then chief minister Vasundhara Raje visited that country as a member of a delegation headed by the Union agriculture minister in 2006; a test plantation of olives with Israeli collaboration began thereafter.
Rajasthan isn’t the first to try at its hand at olive production.
“Previous attempts to cultivate it at Ramban in Jammu and Kashmir, and Kullu in Himachal Pradesh by some Italian companies failed,” reveals Verma. “Other states like Punjab, Haryana and Odisha have also started test plantation of olives.”