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Mercury rises, olives sprout

- Focus on commercial cultivation

Srinagar, Jan. 6: Kashmir is beginning to harvest the “blessed” olive fruit, but thanks largely to what researchers said was an ominous trend. A steady rise in temperatures.

A recent study by the Jammu-based Sher-i-Kashmir University of Agriculture Sciences found that since 1980 there has been an average increase of 1.2 to 1.5 degrees Celsius across the state.

“The average temperature in Kashmir, which has a temperate climate, is rising by 0.045 degree Celsius every year (or 0.45 degree Celsius in a decade),” said Mahender Singh, senior weather scientist at the university, who was part of the study.

According to the study, which attributed the rise in the mercury to deforestation, urbanisation and other human interference, the decadal increase has been 0.30 degree Celsius in some parts of Jammu and 0.35 degree Celsius in areas that have sub-tropical to sub-temperate climates. “The increase in temperature at this rate would adversely affect almost all crops of the region,” the study said.

Except olives.

The trees, which Muslims consider blessed, have thrived on the rising mercury.

Officials at the Valley’s Central Institute of Temperate Horticulture (CITH) said they had successfully cultivated some varieties of olive for the first time in Kashmir at their farm in Budgam and would promote its cultivation on commercial lines from this year by supplying shoots to farmers.

CITH, Kashmir, director Nazeer Ahmad said six Italian out of a few dozen varieties of olive trees imported from the US, Egypt and Italy had adapted to conditions in the Valley and started bearing fruit. “Our experimentation has been successful…. Olives can be a successful crop in Kashmir in the future,” he said.

Ahmad said the increase in temperatures across the state was “one major reason” for the success in cultivating the fruit, known for its health benefits. Olive oil is the world’s most commonly used mono-unsaturated oil.

“There are a wide range of olive varieties, of which the mid and high-chill varieties (that require low temperature for a longer period) were successful,” Ahmad said.

“While olives have a religious significance for Muslims, these trees are best suited for Kashmir economically as well as aesthetically. They are evergreen trees, last longer and will add to the beauty of this place,” the CITH director added.

The trees were planted in 2008 and began bearing fruit a couple of years back. The produce per tree was around 8-10kg last year, against 7-8kg in 2012.

Olive trees usually take 10 to 12 years to start bearing fruit commercially.

Kashmir had first experimented with an olive plantation in 1885 under a joint initiative between India and Italy. But the little success over the years that preceded the current yield was limited to some border areas that have sub-temperate weather conditions.

Found largely in the Mediterranean region, olives grow in sub-tropical climates where winters are mild and summers long, dry and warm. They couldn’t grow in Kashmir’s temperate weather conditions but the rise in temperatures over the past few decades have helped.