Chai pe charcha: Take the Olive way

Rajasthan, the only state to undertake olive cultivation commercially were stumped when a Kerala tea tycoon concocted olive tea from dried leaves of the desert state. Rajasthan Post delves into the desert state’s olive tale

Rajasthan’s olive story is unique, experts say something to be emulated. Being a desert state, it has dared to undertake olive plantations commercially and it has succeeded to an extent. But there’s twist in its success tale.

Rajasthan now needs to take a cue from Kerala. It has taken a businessman from Kerala to show Rajasthan that wasted olive leaves can be effectively brewed into a cup of refreshing tea.

To be marketed in April or latest by May this year, this olive tea from Kerala is likely to be the first such brand from India. Rajasthan is now thinking of utilizing its own resources to concoct the everyday brew.

Rajasthan, which began its olive plantations in 2008 during the previous tenure of Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje, has had a fruit yield of 46,865 kg and oil extract of 3500 kg in 2015. But somehow, Rajasthan never had an idea of brewing tea out of the leaves that lay wasted.
Though olive trees’ main produce is the fruit for oil production, the leaves which otherwise goes waste, have an equally beneficial use.
But it was left to businessman, K C Alex dealing in olives from Kerala to show the way to the desert state.

State agriculture minister Prabhu Lal Saini, who is aggressively promoting and marketing olive plantations said: “We were in for a surprise, when a Kerala businessman, offered us olive tea, which is medically beneficial, from leaves collected from Rajasthan. Till now, the olive leaves used to go waste. We never thought they could produce anything useful. But thanks to him, we are now doing research and development to produce olive tea on our own.”

According to experts, olive tea is a pleasant, healthy and refreshing beverage, having an antioxidant capacity almost double green tea extract and 400% higher than vitamin C.

The active compounds that are present in olive leaf are hydroxytyrosol, oleuropein and tyrosol along with other strong antioxidants. The high amount of antioxidants present can help the body fight against illness and premature aging. It can also lower cholesterol and blood pressure.

Alex, the managing director of Olive Plants India, based in Cochin, said that his olive tea is likely to be in the market by April, 2016.

But he started sourcing the tea leaves from Rajasthan about a year back as the desert state imported its plantations from Israel, which are of high quality. He said : “Having had business associations with olive producing countries like Cyprus for years, I had an idea that the tea leaves in Rajasthan were bound to be of good quality. When it was tested in small quantities, the tea was refreshing. Actually the quality of good olive tea is half in the raw materials and half the way it is processed.”

Rajasthan had imported 1.12 lakhs of quality rooted olive plants from Israel in 2008. Seven leading varieties Barnea, Arbequina, Cortina, Picholine, Picual, Korinoiki and Frontoy were planted then. Irrigation in Rajasthan is done through drip irrigation, a technical knowhow received from Israel, which also has the same climactic conditions as Rajasthan.

Rajasthan is now undertaking olive plantations on 182 hectares in different agro-climatic conditions of the state. It has plans to develop clusters of olive orchards in another 5000 hectares in due coarse of time. Rajasthan has distributed about 11,3500 number of olive plants to states as Himachal Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir, Punjab, Haryana, Orissa , Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Gujarat and Kerala too.

About sourcing the tea leaves from Rajasthan, Alex said : “We are only in the initial stages of planning of processing. After a few seasons, we would be able to quantify the amount of leaves we need from different groves in Rajasthan.”

About marketing the olive tea, he added : “We would be out in the market by April or latest by May. Our plans are to sell the product abroad first where it already has a niche market. The pricing of the olive tea depends the country of its produce. In the initial years we cannot expect high returns, but on establishing the brand from India, we can command good price as well. Till now, the local market is virtually non-existent and needs to be nurtured. We have plans to set up a processing unit in Rajasthan too. ”

But Rajasthan is itself keen to cash in on the merits of its olive tea leaves. The government is providing subsidy for olive farming in 11 arid and semi-arid districts, namely Jaisalmer, Nagaur, Churu, Ganganagar, Jaipur, Bikaner, Hanumangarh, Jhunjhunu, Alwar, Tonk and Baran.
Farmers who agree to cultivate the crop would get Rs 48,000 per hectare for the first year and Rs 3,400 per hectare for three years thereafter.

Rajasthan now plans to formally declare olive as a plantation crop to attract foreign direct investment.
Minister Saini said: “We want farmers to produce, process and market their produce. It is time Rajasthan comes to be known for more than just bajra,” said Saini.
For Rajasthan, bajra is now passe, it aims to capture the chai pe charcha sessions through the olive route.

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