Driving southeast of Bikaner, Rajasthan, all that meets one’s eyes is the sand and shrubs. Vegetation is scarce, agriculture of any kind non-existent and the only green one can see are a few patches of grass in the sand. Two hours ahead, taking a left from the NH-65, on the road to Didwana, the dry brown landscape suddenly changes colour. Olive trees, around 14,000 of them spread across 30 hectares, dot the desert land. This is the Bakliya farms, one of seven such farms in Rajasthan, result of an Indo-Israeli agricultural venture.
It started with Vasundhara Raje’s visit to Israel in 2006. The sight of an olive farm in a kibbutz in the Negev desert of southern Israel struck the former Rajasthan chief minister as something that could be replicated in her state. On her request, the Israel government agreed to help set up olive groves in Rajasthan, a hitherto failed experiment in India. The Israelis had developed a technology through intensive plantation and drip irrigation that allowed them to grow olive on arid land. Exactly what the then chief minister wanted for her dry state..
The Rajasthan Olive Cultivation Limited (ROCL) was set up as a public-private partnership with investments from the Rajasthan government and expertise from Indolive, an Israeli olive farming company and Pune-based irrigation equipment manufacturers, Finolex Plasson Industries. In the next six years, seven areas in the state were selected for growing seven varieties of the plant. Cuttings of high yield olive plants were imported from Israel. Drip irrigation, another Israeli invention and a common Indian practice now, was also used. Fertilisers, cutting techniques, soil testing — all the expertise came from Israel.
|Barnea olive variety|
Of the seven varieties they planted, Barnea olive variety had been the most successful.
The results have been quite impressive. Of the seven districts where the olive experiment took place, four have done well. Buoyed by the success, the Rajasthan government has declared huge subsidies — 75 percent on plant cuttings, 3,000 per hectare on fertilizers and chemicals, and 90 percent on drip irrigation — to promote olive plantation in the state. An olive oil refinery is also coming up in Lukhransar, north of Bikaner.
The Rajasthan experiment has also given Israel the impetus to expand into other agriculture and horticulture segments across India. The technologies to be transferred include irrigation, soil solarisation for disease control in plants, polyhouse farming, fertilisers, hybrid plants and seeds. While Israel has already entered into agreement with seven state governments to set up these centres, the most successful model has been Haryana.