Cotton crisis

By Zubeida Mustafa

PAKISTAN’S economy is in grave trouble. According to the Pakistan Economic Survey 2015-16, it failed to meet the growth target of 5.5pc in FY2016. GDP grew by 4.7 pc. This was mainly due to the ‘major setback’ (to use the finance minister’s words) in agriculture.

At the heart of the crisis was a massive decline of 27.8pc in cotton production. It should be remembered that cotton is the mainstay of our agriculture and textile industry. The cotton crisis has emerged as a very controversial issue. Well-informed farmers attribute this disaster to the widespread use of genetically modified seeds that were formally introduced in the country in 2010 but were being smuggled since 2005. Now BT cotton (a genetically modified variety) is grown in 88pc of the cotton-cultivated area.

Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) have been challenged all over the world as some giant seed multinationals have grown phenomenally thanks to their aggressive marketing. If unchecked, they could dominate global agriculture. GM seeds will undermine biodiversity as the manufacturers ensure their monopoly in the seed sector. Being vulnerable to pest attacks, GM crops need pesticides in large quantities that poor farmers cannot afford. It is no coincidence that the manufacturers of these seeds also produce pesticides which account for a big chunk of their revenues.

Farmers are prediing another year of difficulties


Some facts are indisputable. Cotton production has not increased as promised since BT cotton was introduced. The decline is not fully reflected in the data released by the government because it has changed the measure used to determine the output, which is counted in the number of bales. Previously, each cotton bale weighed 176 kilogrammes. Since 2011 it has been reduced to 150kg. Using the old measure we know that cotton production had hit a record figure of 14.6 million bales in 2004. That figure has never been reached again and last year it was less than 9m bales (by the old measure).The per hectare yield as well as the area of cotton cultivation have been erratic. In FY2012, 2.8m hectares (about seven acres) were cultivated and the yield was 815kg per hectare. In FY2016, these figures were 2.91 hectares with a yield of 587kg per hectare respectively, which means the slight increase in acreage was offset by the lower yield.

The government blames the weather (frequent and excessive rains) and pest attack, mainly bollworms, for the fall in cotton output. In a recent notification, the Punjab government advised farmers to delay planting.

The farmers have another story to tell. They say it is the poor quality of seeds that has led to pest attacks and caused the decline in production. They are predicting another year of crisis. According to one media report this year, many farmers have switched to other crops and the area of cotton cultivation is considerably lower.

In spite of poor results, the government insists on approving GM cotton seeds. Thus in a meeting in February, the National Biosafety Committee (NBC) hastily approved the applications for nearly 100 GM seeds without following prescribed procedures. That is how Monsanto and Dupont were allowed commercialisation of GM corn without large-scale testing and biosafety risk assessment in open fields in Pakistan.

This was reconfirmed by the NBC in another meeting in April on the written orders of the prime minister. This is shocking to say the least. There has been a concerted effort to increase the private sector’s role and space in the seed market. Monsanto, an American biotechnology company, has been a big beneficiary of the changes in the government’s policies. In 2015, the Seeds Act 1976 was changed to “meet the requirements of the modern seed industry”.

Not surprisingly the pressure for change came from the US which wants Pakistan to meet its ‘obligations’ under WTO regulations and create a larger market for private seed producers. Previously, seed manufacturing and its price regulation was in the public sector. Now the private sector — mainly giant biotech companies — has entered the seed market in Pakistan.

WikiLeaks which brought into the open routine exchanges between US diplomatic missions in Pakistan and the State Department in Washington apparently revealed how Monsanto was in the picture in the formulation of cotton policies in the country.

To reject new technologies in a knee-jerk reaction is unwise. But it is worse to accept them indiscriminately without testing them rigorously under local conditions.

The Kissan Board has gone to court to get justice for the farmers. It filed a petition in 2014 challenging the NBC meeting that allowed the commercialisation of BT cotton that year. Its plea was accepted but the government went into appeal and the matter was put on hold. The government has proceeded as usual. Now another case has been filed challenging the government on constitutional grounds and for violation of the Cartagena Protocol. BT’s fate now hinges on the court’s decision.

Source: Dawn

Continue reading “Cotton crisis”

Enemies of the poor

By Zubeida Mustafa

EIGHT years ago, a young woman from Khairo Dero (Larkana district) was so touched by the plight of her people that she decided to work for their uplift.

She had been fortunate to receive a privileged education abroad, was doing a lucrative job and had all that one could wish for in life. Today, she has renounced these privileges to work for her people. .

Thus Naween Mangi set out on her journey of creating a model village for development in Khairo Dero. Continue reading “Enemies of the poor”

Textbooks of hate

Peshawar: Launching of Textbooks of Hate or Peace? on 11 Feb 2016
Peshawar: Launching of Textbooks of Hate or Peace? on 11 Feb 2016

By Zubeida Mustafa

PAULO Freire, the Brazilian educator and author of Pedagogy of the Oppressed, said education should aim at teaching students to think critically. They should work with the teacher in creating knowledge.

Freire believed that students should do a lot of “problem-posing” and then seek answers through their own experience and thought processes to discover the route to change.

Can we hope to achieve this change through the kind of textbooks used in our public-sector schools? For decades, critics have mourned the dismal state of textbooks in Pakistan. But no one has batted an eyelid. Continue reading “Textbooks of hate”

Unsilenced voice

By Zubeida Mustafa

JAN 22 was Perween Rahman’s birthday. Had she escaped the assassin’s cruel bullets she would have turned 59. But that was not to be and this devoted social worker, a friend of the poor, was snatched away from us three years ago on March 13, 2013.

Not that she has receded into oblivion. The poor are not ungrateful. Nor have those who feared her mended their ways. OPP-RTI, the organisation she headed, wanted to observe Perween’s birthday and celebrate her life and achievements. Such events help imprint on the public memory the work of selfless and lovable personalities who have made an impact on the lives of those they worked for. Thus alone will many Perweens be born. This is absolutely necessary if this society is to be saved from the avarice of the selfish. Continue reading “Unsilenced voice”

Magic of science

By Zubeida Mustafa

Lalah Rukh Malik - Photo by Khaula
Lalah Rukh Malik – Photo by Khaula Jamil

SOMETIME ago, I was trying to teach Shaan, a teenager studying in a school in a low-income neighbourhood, about the rotation of the earth, the solar eclipse and the pull of gravity. After describing these phenomena, I asked him why we didn’t fall off the earth when it rotates. He very promptly replied, “Because God has willed it so.”

His lack of curiosity about natural phenomena left me thunderstruck. Then a look at the science textbooks used in our schools gave me a better insight into the disinterest of our students in science. They are required to memorise a Continue reading “Magic of science”

‘Seedy’ business

By Zubeida Mustafa

COTTON growers in southern Punjab are facing a serious crisis. Their crop production has shrunk drastically. The reasons stated, among others, are poor quality seeds and severe pest attack.

These factors can be addressed, provided the will exists. Poor seeds and pest attacks that are interconnected have a causal link with the rapid spread of genetically modified organisms (GMO) that have begun to shake public confidence the world over.

The tide is now turning as demonstrations have been held against GMOs, which shot to fame when they were promoted as the miracle seed to eliminate hunger. But the fact is that hybrid plants in which genomes from different species are mixed are too new and untested a technology to win universal acceptance. Continue reading “‘Seedy’ business”

Who pays the bill?

By Zubeida Mustafa

ELECTRICITY and the energy sector have been in the news for a long time now in Pakistan. The enormous shortfalls in power generation have been the most talked about issue. The corruption factor has also figured prominently with circular debts and illegal connections drawing a lot of flak against the government. The heatwave in Karachi in June leading to the death of about 1,200 people and the proposal for a Heat Health Action Plan that came in its wake should focus public attention on a number of core issues.

Against this backdrop, I asked Yadullah Husain, a Canadian-Pakistani journalist, how he perceives the crisis. Husain was my colleague in Dawn 17 years ago and is today the energy editor at the respected Canadian paper, Financial Post. He has recently won the Newsmaker of the Year award given by the Global Petroleum Survey recognising the services of a journalist covering the oil and gas sector. Continue reading “Who pays the bill?”

Interview with Yadullah Hussain

yadYadullah Hussain joined Dawn as a trainee sub-editor in 1993, working at what was then called the Tuesday Review. He says, “I had the unique privilege of working under Ahmed Ali Khan, editor in chief of Dawn at the time. Through my frequent interactions with him I learnt the value of journalism and the quest for the truth. He once said to me, ‘I don’t want geniuses, I want hard working people.’ I took that to heart and it worked well for me as I am not the sharpest tool in the shed! The only way I could get ahead was to work hard.

“I also had the pleasure of working with extremely talented individuals at Dawn, but foremost was the Tuesday Review editor Uneza Akhtar, who gave me tremendous freedom to write on varied subjects and express myself. I would like to believe that at The Review we created a very special literary haven that showcased Pakistan’s artists and literary figures. Continue reading “Interview with Yadullah Hussain”

Reconnecting with Nature

 

By Zubeida Mustafa

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURESGeorge Monbiot, one of my favourite columnists in the Guardian (London), wrote this week about a campaign to “rewild” Britain of which he is one of the pioneers. His column was headlined “Let’s make Britain wild again and find ourselves in nature”. This according to him can heal not only the living world but much that is missing in our own lives.

I realised the importance of connecting with nature when we paid a visit to the Niagara Falls on Thursday (16 July). Let me make it clear at the start that I must have visited the falls umpteen of times since 1992 when I first visited Canada. But the last time I had gone there was fourteen years ago when I had my 60th birthday photograph taken against the backdrop of the gushing waters of this natural wonder of the world. Continue reading “Reconnecting with Nature”

Save Karachi

RCover

By Zubeida Mustafa

RUMANA Husain’s recently published Street Smart: Professionals on the Street comes as a reminder of how we are losing the city where many of us have lived and worked for most of our lives. Karachi is no more what I remember of it when I was a child.

Some categories of the blue-collar workers, as Rumana calls the people who are the subject of her book, no longer exist. Mechanisation, technology and lifestyles have made them redundant. That is change, as the new replaces the old. But the tragedy is that the street professionals no longer knit the community together as they once did. Continue reading “Save Karachi”