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”

Physician let a colleague treat you

By Zeba Hisam

TODAY I am writing this while waiting for my turn for physiotherapy for my right hand carpal tunnel syndrome. I had been having severe pain that became worst on twisting movements and pulling or bearing weight on this hand. First I took a painkiller regularly without any benefit then kept on complaining about pain and was scolded by my mother and elder sister to consult a doctor and not to treat myself. I got all my lab investigations done which came out to be normal ( CP, ESR, CRP, uric acid, RA factor and T3, T4, TSH and the x-ray of my wrist). I was convinced that it was carpal tunnel syndrome as I previously got a persistent parasthesia on my right hand so I got an appointment with my teacher, Professor of neurology, Dr. Abdullah, who endorsed my diagnosis and sent me to this amazing physiotherapy Center named “Neurology & Falij care Center”! He advised me to get my physiotherapy done by the specific lady physiotherapist. So it’s my third session today and I do the exercises advised by her regularly at home multiple times. I hope and pray that improvement will come soon. 

I am writing this because I want to warn and advice all doctors who are even specialist in their own specific fields, to please consult a doctor if you have any complaint and do not let yourself be treated by yourself considering yourself as a self sufficient doctor! As we take the history of a patient then we examine the patient physically in a proper set up of our clinics to make a diagnosis so like that, we also need to be examined in the same manner by another professional doctor and trusting that doctor and following the advice given!

I give an example of my doctor friend who got fever with sore throat. She followed her own advice by assuming a viral infection so didn’t take any medicine and neither got any tests done. After a few days she was sick enough to not come out of bed. She mentioned this to another doctor who met her by chance. That doctor said that her husband had the same sickness and he got well by a five day course of tablet Levofloxacin. On her advice, she took that medicine and deteriorated further. I also met her by chance and found her unable to talk and walk. She was in need to be on a hospital couch to be examined by me or any other doctor. Her super spirits kept her working and she told me that everyday her fever settles with panadol tablets and she comes to work! It was beyond my comprehension! She consulted me on her way by standing in the corridor and asked me for some appropriate medicine? How could I answer that without even taking her proper history and physical examination? This I am telling you about a specialist doctor’s behaviour on illness and not of a layperson! 

One of a colleague gynaecologist working in the same hospital,  came to me one day with complaints of dizziness and feeling of doom. I checked her vitals and found her blood pressure to be 200/120 mmHg. I advised her to get admitted and get her tests done but she said there is no history of hypertension and lately she had a few episodes otherwise she was fine and was not taking any medicine. Although every time she had this episode she used to go to the emergency department to lie down on a bed with a sub lingual Capoten tablet given by emergency duty RMO and after half an hour, she would return to her  OPD for examining her patients! (How could she ignore her patients)! She never checked her blood sugar level or lipid profile or electrolytes or urea and creatinine! She was so oblivious of hypertension’s complications! So at times we can give only a sincere advice and let the doctor decide what he has/she to do! 

So doctors! Take a break if you are sick and consult another doctor to help you by examining and treating you with an appropriate diagnosis!

The writer is a Consultant Physician at the Zubaida Medical Center, Karachi

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Losers All

 

By Rifaat Hamid Ghani

TO whom would you give the Monumental Stupidity Award? The Sharif camp for offering — if it indeed did offer — the incorruptible Imran Khan a bribe to shut up about PanamaLeaks; or Imran Khan for “disclosing” what can only remain yet another allegation?

It is hard to take up “facts” when they keep varying, but an aspect of the disclosure that intrigues me is that the emissary/go-between is said to be an individual long turned sadiq and ameen— maybe of the kind that turns kundun after having done much personally to feed the fiery flame? Of course such probity implies they can be trusted not to divert the lucre; but what of the moral philosophy that the bribed and the briber are equally heinous? Are middlemen blameless as mere facilitators or do they get it

Continue reading “Losers All”

Right vs wrong

IN a society as morally perverse and corrupt as ours, does a centre of ethics have any relevance? A cynic’s answer would be a resounding ‘none whatsoever’. The idealist/reformer would say, ‘all the more’. That is a dilemma that faces all activists in this country seeking to light the spark of change.

In this context, the SIUT’s Centre for Biomedical Ethics and Culture (CBEC) faces a daunting challenge. It has been struggling for the last 13 years to introduce an ethical perspective not just in healthcare but also in the non-medical sector. Its endeavours became meaningful and received international recognition when last week WHO declared the CBEC a Collaborating Centre for Bioethics — one of the eight to receive that prestigious status worldwide. Continue reading “Right vs wrong”

Inspiring change

By Zubeida Mustafa

EDUCATION in Pakistan has not proved to be the catalyst for change that a dynamic and enlightened knowledge sector has been in many societies. The socio-cultural stagnation has been made worse by the lack of motivation in the teachers.

They can be the change-makers — many are playing that role at an individual level — that we so badly need today. But collectively, they are not. Continue reading “Inspiring change”

Quest for schools

Neelum Colony on the fringe of DHA, Karachi

By Zubeida Mustafa

MARCH 23 was an occasion for soul-searching by civil society activists. In a meeting they demanded a new social contract to revive the spirit of the Lahore Resolution. The emphasis was on giving the underprivileged their due share in parliament and national resources. The assumption is that a share in policymaking and the country’s wealth will empower the disadvantaged, that is, the majority. Continue reading “Quest for schools”

Language whims

By Zubeida Mustafa

MY last column on language-in-education evoked interesting comments from readers. Some raised valid concerns. Others betrayed unfounded fears about language — and also education. Quite a few of the comments were more an outpouring of emotional biases and not based on rational thinking.

First of all what needs to be clarified is that there is a world of difference between using a language as a medium of instruction (MOI) and teaching it as a subject. Whenever there is a discourse on the language-in-education issue we seem to get carried away by our passion for English. It needs to be understood clearly that a child learning history, geography or even science in an indigenous language can still learn English as a second language just like any German or Korean child does. If English is taught by competent teachers using the correct methodology the child will learn it well and quickly. Continue reading “Language whims”

Why English again?

By Zubeida Mustafa

SINCE 1999, when Unesco first declared Feb 21 International Mother Language Day, this issue has received much attention throughout the world. In Pakistan, where the language issue has always had a complexity of its own, educators, linguists and activists are now more vocal than ever.

Will the ruckus being created have a real impact on the language situation in various sectors of national life? The courts have given two major language-related verdicts in the past two years. One was the Supreme Court’s directive of 2015 asking the government to use Urdu as the official language of administration. The second is the recent order of the Lahore High Court asking the Federal Public Commission to conduct CSS examinations in Urdu.

There is a logical link between the two. A person who is to conduct the affairs of governance in one language should be fluent enough in it to pass an exam to qualify as an administrator. The conclusion that follows is that the CSS candidates should have studied Urdu in school as well as college to be able to take examinations in that language. Continue reading “Why English again?”