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Agriculture: suicide or survival




  • With a population of over 190 million and growing, Pakistan is under increasing pressure on many fronts with food production, the provision of water, power and the raw materials necessary to keep the indigenous manufacturing industry up and running, obviously of paramount concern along with, it goes without saying, vast increases in the heath care, education and housing sectors too which, considered en mass, is an astronomical problem indeed.

    The agricultural industry has always, since the country’s inception, been the backbone on which all else depends and, with a burgeoning population to feed – a frightening percentage of which is already malnourished due to a combination of escalating inflation and nutritional ignorance – a massive boost in food production is an emergency essential. That, unfortunately, those profiting from the manufacture and sale of chemical agricultural inputs and of GMO (Genetically Modified Organisms) seeds are already poised to take quick advantage of.

    The vast majority of farmers, be these actual landowners or tenants, are uneducated people who have, especially over the last two or three decades, been easily convinced by salesmen representing chemical agricultural inputs – these ranging from fertilisers through to lethally toxic herbicides and pesticides – that by investing in such products, they can increase yields, therefore profit margins, to an astonishing degree. And farmers have taken this enticing bait hook, line and sinker, often getting deeply into debt in the process.

    A dire lack of education, amongst many of the sales agents too, means that they do not, on the whole, have any idea of the long-term consequences of their actions – on the soil itself, on the crops they produce or on their own and consumer’s health – and remain under the impression that the more toxins they apply, the more profit they will ultimately reap.

    The frightening example of the horrendous situation, a situation completely arising from the exact same misconception, during the so-called ‘Green Revolution’ in Indian Punjab where resultant health issues – with cancers predominating – and bankruptcy have led and, it must be said, still lead to horrifyingly high rates of farmer suicide, is not publicised amongst the farming community here for the simple reason, it is presumed, that the word ‘India’ is, quite ridiculously given the circumstances, viewed with unwarranted suspicion and what are true stories of agricultural problems in Indian Punjab are considered to be nothing more than highly dubious propaganda here.

    If our own Government Agricultural Department had any sense – or was the slightest bit concerned about the health and safety of farmers and consumers, plus, the sustainability of agricultural production over the years to come – all they need do is organise travelling video shows of where Indian agriculture went wrong in the over application of toxic chemicals and of the dire consequences of following in the exact same footsteps.

    But no – this is far too sensible an idea to be taken up at any level, especially so as it would adversely affect the astronomical profits currently accrued to, for example, chemical fertiliser production units owned and operated by the armed forces and ‘spin-offs’ of the same.

    Now, on top of chemical catastrophes – the majority of agricultural produce in the market is contaminated to an actively poisonous degree – there is the unholy spectre of GMO seeds being ‘dumped’ on Pakistan, despite these highly questionable ‘inventions’ having being totally banned, right across the board, in a number of eminently sensible countries around the world in the wake of scientific evidence that the world of GMO seeds is dangerously far from being all that is claimed by its main progenitors, such as Monsanto, but has, instead, distinctly Frankenstein connotations.

    Successful seed purveyors, at the behest of multinational seed corporations and companies, are already responsible for the almost complete loss of indigenous seed varieties here – the remaining few are liable, unless action is taken, to be extinct very soon – having coerced both commercial and home growers to switch over to ‘improved’ hybrid varieties from which seed cannot realistically be saved but must, to the glee of its sellers, be purchased afresh each growing season. Seed saved from hybrid varieties does not produce the same standard of crop as the parent plants if, that it, it manages to crop at all. 

    Indigenous varieties – often referred to as ‘Heritage’ – on the other hand, are open pollinated varieties or species from which growers can save their own seed, year after year, without any deterioration in crop production as long, that is, as correct soil conditions are maintained.

    The only ones to profit from these ‘Heritage’ species are, quite obviously, growers, which is why seed corporations are doing their level best to knock ‘Heritage’ on the head once and for all.

    The latest twisted agricultural manoeuvre launched by those profiting from chemical agricultural inputs – these would, by the way, make even more if GMO seeds are allowed free reign here – is to viciously malign organic, totally chemical free, growing practices as are being taken up by an expanding number of ‘enlightened’ growers – commercial and private – around the planet and who, by the way, also use only ‘Heritage’ seeds as, naturally, they can make no profit from them at all.

    For Pakistani agriculture to improve – as it must – the need of the hour is to educate farmers as to the real dangers of chemical reliance, of GMO and hybrid seeds and to make them realise that the only way for them to remain safely and financially afloat, is to implement the new, updated methods of sustainable organic agriculture for the benefit of all – except chemical input manufacturers and the sellers of GMO and hybrid seeds – concerned and to factor very real climate change into this completely natural equation.

    n    The writer is author of The Gun Tree: One Woman’s War (Oxford University Press, 2001) and lives in Bhurban. Email: zahrahnasir@hotmail.com

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