RAWALPINDI  -  The Punjab government under its five-year (2015-2020) plan will provide some 473,500 olive saplings free of charge for plantation in the Olive Valley this year and the farmers can submit their application in this regard till August 31.

The Olive Valley comprises Rawalpindi, Chakwal, Jhelum and Attock districts of Potohar region, besides Mianwali and Khushab districts.

According to the Barani Agriculture Research Institute (BARI) Director, the Punjab Agriculture Department had so far managed to plant over one million olive saplings in the Potohar region. The programme was launched aimed at promoting local production of olive oil and curtailing import bill of edible oil sector, he said.  He informed that the growers were offered subsidy in accordance with the set rules and procedure and they were bound to fully comply with the recommendations of the Provincial Agriculture Department. For the purpose the department had imported high quality saplings from the best recognized countries for the production of olive, he added.

To a question, he said those farmers, who either possessed sufficient irrigation resources for the maintenance of an olive orchard, or aspired to avail the 70 per cent subsidy available to manage irrigation resources could get free olive saplings. "If the grower opts to establish a drip irrigation system, then the applicant shall be eligible to avail a 60 per cent subsidy," he added.

Applications on the prescribed form, along with photocopies of the Computerized National Identity Cards could be sent through post to the Agriculture Research Institute (Chakwal) director, or might be dropped in person, he said. "The area of Potohar region has suitable climatic conditions for olive cultivation as evident from the presence of wild olives at large area here. That is why the government had decided to turn Potohar into an olive valley," he said.

The BARI director said olive was an environmental friendly plant. "An olive tree starts production after three to four years of its plantation while its productive age lasts for a long period." "If we utilise only one third of our available area for olive cultivation, we will not only stop importing edible oil but also could become one of the largest olive oil producers," he added.

The BARI director said olive cultivation at 2.37m hectares area could help stop import of edible oil, which would require a hefty budget.

He said some 250 plants could be cultivated on a hectare of land, which could yield around 600 litres of olive oil. The price of olive oil was Rs 500 per litre and thus a farmer could earn Rs 300,000 by growing olive on a hectare, he added.