The magic crop

By Zubeida Mustafa

THE existential threat that Pakistan faces today is the insidious devastation of our human resources. It is a silent crisis, yet to be recognised, as an entire generation of children faces a slow death by malnutrition.

Denied basic nutrients — especially protein — essential for their physical and cognitive growth in the critical first 1,000 days of life, the majority of children never enjoy the same health and mental growth as that of a normal well-fed child. Paediatricians tell us that the damage done during this window of life — from conception till the second birthday — cannot be reversed. We have been warned, but nothing stirs us out of our complacency.

According to the Pakistan Demographic and Health Survey 2013-14, 45 per cent of children under five in Pakistan are stunted while 30pc are underweight. That means many of our children are denied the capacity to realise fully their learning and growth potential. Malnutrition also affects their mothers who give birth to them.


New solutions are needed to provide nutrition to children.


This is the real food insecurity that Pakistan faces. Its grim implications are not reported by the media because we do not have too many deaths by famine. But, silently, the minds of our children are dying. It is an irony that we cannot feed the little ones when nature has blessed Pakistan with an abundance of wheat. Poverty and the unaffordable price of wheat mean that children are being starved of nutrition. The decline in official subsidies over the years and the rising cost of inputs has put food beyond the reach of the common man.

It is time to think of new solutions, especially in terms of providing nourishment to children. The Food and Agriculture Organisation has the answer in quinoa, which has been dubbed as the miracle grain, the magic food and, above all, the complete protein possessing all the nine essential amino acids needed to build the body and brain of a growing child.

Another major advantage it offers is its low cost of production and its natural adaptability to diverse climatic conditions. FAO, a vocal advocate, declared 2013 as the International Year of the Quinoa.

The grain, it is claimed, has many nutritional properties and is also cheap to grow. Dr Shahzad Basra, professor of agronomy at the Faisalabad Agriculture University, is an ardent supporter of the quinoa and has been doing research on the seed since 2009 when he imported some germplasm from the US Department of Agriculture to test it in Pakistani conditions.

According to him quinoa is gluten-free, rich in protein (15-19 pc), has many minerals such as zinc, magnesium, manganese, etc and a low glycemic index. Wheat, our staple grain, has only 13pc protein. Dr Basra also points out that quinoa is a resilient crop that is not affected by unfavourable weather, thrives in saline soil — clayey or sandy — and is drought resistant. The yield per acre is 800 kilograms. This is much lower than that of wheat. But I presume the yield of quinoa will grow with more research and cultivation.

What I find strange is that given these advantages, why is quinoa not being promoted in a big way in Pakistan? According to Dr Basra’s information, quinoa is cultivated on 800 acres (a little over 300 hectares) or so which means a production of 640,000kg a year, most of which is exported. It is true that a culinary taste for quinoa has yet to be developed. That calls for a public campaign in a land of wheat eaters.

This is worth it as quinoa has done well as the staple food of the Andean region in South America where the indigenous populations have preserved the crop carefully with their traditional knowledge and practices.

From what I understand, the government has not tried to promote quinoa at all. Those who have, including some resea­rchers and cultivators, have focused on its rich potential as an export item. As prices have risen in the world market, local production has increased somewhat in the last three years. As a result, the price of quinoa, Dr Shahzad tells me, has declined in Pakistan from Rs3,500 to Rs400-600 per kilo.

It is time we thought of our children. The government needs to draw up child-centred nutrition programmes focused on quinoa. This is possible if a policy is adopted to indigenise the grain and devise ideal agricultural practices to maximise its production. It need not displace wheat. Given its easy-to-grow properties, tillers could grow it on land that is not fit for wheat cultivation. Why not distribute the ‘barren’ land among small farmers and show them how to grow the magic crop?

Sensible pricing and export policies could ensure affordable prices with export being allowed only above specified ceilings after local nutritional needs have been met. Small entrepreneurs should step forward to produce cereal and baby food.

Source: Dawn

 

 

May 12th 2007-17

By Rifaat Hamid Ghani

May 12th   2017 is as good as come and gone. As I recall 2007—the year of CJP Iftikhar Chaudhry, for his persona was at once the catalyst and dynamic—that May 12th anniversary marker’s mood-content would be anachronistic today. Its villains and martyrs have squirmed and shifted, and are no longer held firmly within the mould of that year’s context.

Which also indicates its characters are operative: vital and politically relevant, not merely historical.   Continue reading “May 12th 2007-17”

A friendship that will never die

Khalida Qureshi 1961

ONE never writes an obituary of a friendship. Friends may pass away but friendship never does. That is how I feel about Khalida Qureshi — a friend who departed 34 years ago on 23 February 1983. My friendship with her lives on. I asked poet BADRI RAINA to send me a poem on friendshp. Here are some lines from Badri’s poem:

Friendship is the touch of truth

In a world of  camouflage—

A plain-speaking toddler

That never comes of age.

Friendship sets aside with smile

Pretence and make-believe;

It wears a crystal heart

Upon a crystal sleeve.

Friendship is not mercantile,

It does not calculate

The latest  TRP

Or  lucrative exchange rate.

Friendship is a tendril brave

That redeems a fallen wall;

Friendship speaks of shame and pain

Without pursuit of fault;

Friendship is a conjoint soul

Under a heavenly vault.

Friendship makes the human sun,

It makes the human moon;

Friendship justifies the god above,

It is the Higg’s Boson.

There is nothing more for me to say

                                                                  Zubeida Mustafa

(R to L) Khalida, Umer and Aziz

 

 

Education: ill-prepared for globalization

By Zubeida Mustafa

The recently-released Mahbub ul Haq Centre’s Human Development in South Asia, 2001 report, which focuses on globalization and human development, points to a disaster looming on the horizon for countries like Pakistan.

The report correctly states, “Globalization is driven by knowledge and new technology. Thus there is a need not only to provide good quality primary, secondary and technical education but also to spend more on higher level of professional education. But in South Asia a trend of declining or stagnant tertiary enrolment rates is emerging.” (p.55) Continue reading “Education: ill-prepared for globalization”

Message of hope?

 

By Zubeida Mustafa

IN these times of despair, even the dead can give us hope and inspiration. That is the powerful message that emerged from the Orangi Pilot Project-Research and Training Institute’s forum on Jan 22. It was organised to commemorate the birthday of Perween Rahman who was shot fatally in March 2013.

Why was Perween killed? It might sound bizarre but the fact is that there are vested interests in our society who feel threatened by people who work for the poor. That was confirmed by SP Akhtar Farooqi who said on the occasion that the murder was not motivated by personal enmity but by economic factors. Continue reading “Message of hope?”

Loss of dignity

By Zubeida Mustafa

A FRIEND sent me his greetings on New Year with this verse: “Apnay haathon say dastar sumbhaloon kaisay/ Donon haathon mein kashkol pakar rakha hai.” (How should I hold up my turban when I hold the begging bowl with both my hands?)

The truth of this verse hit me when a news item in this paper reported the proceedings of the Senate recently. The government had come under fire from a PTI member for piling up external and domestic debts to such proportions that servicing them was becoming impossible.

One should not dismiss this as political gimmickry to embarrass the ruling party. After all, which party in Pakistan has even attempted to be self-reliant by adopting austerity as a policy to reduce the government’s dependency on loans? With few parties remaining in office for too long, every ruler spends money with abandon knowing that the chickens will come home to roost when he will not be around to cope with the problem. Continue reading “Loss of dignity”

A hill station in decay

The snow covered Thandiani mountaintop in the background  can no more be seen from a point of one's choice due to buildings like this one.
The snow covered Thandiani mountaintop in the background can no more be seen from a point of one’s choice due to buildings like this one.

By: Nasser Yousaf

guest-contributorAbbottabad. The name sounds romantic. But romantic it is no more. The small hill station, named after its first district administrator, is not even a shadow of its former glory. Sir James Abbott had been so greatly enamoured by the pristine beauty of his place of posting and temporary abode that he wrote an emotional poem in its praise. Continue reading “A hill station in decay”

Consulting a doctor

Dr  Zeba Hisam (MBBS FCPS)

zubeida-3-001-1I am always amazed at people who do not have a family physician from whom they can seek medical advice, when they are ill No matter what is the nature of their health problem, there is no family physician to decide if there is any need for a referral to a specialist. Even patients who are educated and are from the privileged class  declare proudly that they do not need a doctor as they have not suffered from any disease.  In this scenario, if any emergency arises, they panic and seek an immediate appointment from the most renowned and famous specialist they can think of.

My observation is that the more affluent and educated a person is, the more awkward he feels in seeking medical advice. He decides himself which specialist he should consult. His choice sometimes proves to be wrong.

Continue reading “Consulting a doctor”

Eyes on diabetes

 

banting-top2_World Diabetes Day, 14 November, is a day to create awareness on diabetes, a metabolic disorder with a fast rising incidence. The International Diabetes Federation (IDF) and World Health Organization launched the WDD in 1991. This date   was selected to pay homage to the co-discoverer of Insulin, Dr Frederick Banting whose birthday fell on that day. Every year a new theme is selected for the WDD. Most countries of the world observe the day by organizing programmes participated by the general public, health care providers and policy makers. It is a day to raise awareness among all, old and young to fight against the disorder.

zubeida-3-001-1By Dr Fatema Jawad

Mr X’s eyes have been giving him trouble of late. He goes to the doctor. After an examination and some laboratory tests he is informed that he has diabetes. The news comes as a shock to him.

But not to his doctor. It is now known that diabetes is a fast growing metabolic disorder. There are 415 million adults with diabetes worldwide. Simply put,  10.7 percent of the global adult population is living with it. IDF has estimated that by the year 2040 this figure will rise to 642 million or 11.2 percent.. This means one in ten adults has diabetes. About 80 percent of the people with diabetes live in the middle and low income countries and a majority are between 40 and 59 years of age, the most productive years of life. (International Diabetes Federation Diabetes Atlas, 2015) Continue reading “Eyes on diabetes”

Days with Herpes Zoster (shingles)

 By Dr Zeba Hisam

zubeida-3-001-1TEN days ago I started feeling a peculiar pain in the scapular region of my back. It was localised at one point and was constant. It didn’t seem to be the routine muscular pain that I get after vigorous home chores. I took an analgesic but it didn’t go away. I was perplexed as to what it could be.

The mystery was solved after four days when some papular rashes appeared in a line at the same site. I made my diagnosis. It was  Herpes Zoster which is termed Shingles in popular parlance. Yet I went to the skin ward of the Karachi Civil Hospital to confirm my diagnosis. And the doctors there endorsed it and put me on antiviral acyclovir tablets five times a day.

I am not going to college where I teach. Neither do I attend my clinics at the hospital where I work. Continue reading “Days with Herpes Zoster (shingles)”