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”

Politics of numbers

populationBy Zubeida Mustafa

THE Pakistan Economic Survey 2015-16 reminds us of our ticking population bomb. We are told that today the country’s population stands at 195.4 million — 3.7m more than it was the previous year. We have regressed. The population growth rate stands at 1.89pc in 2016. It had dropped to 1.49pc in 1960-2003. Continue reading “Politics of numbers”

What is LSBE?

2

By Zubeida Mustafa

I WAS first introduced to the term ‘life skills-based education’ at a forum of the Indus Resource Centre a few weeks ago. The term was used freely but it was not elucidated sufficiently, at least not for novices like me.

The IRC, which is doing very good work by promoting education in Sindh, had just completed its Reproductive Health through Girls’ Education project and we had gathered for an independent assessment. This was basically a population venture funded by the David and Lucile Packard Foundation but fitted into IRC’s agenda since it sought to change the mindset of girls vis-à-vis reproductive health issues. This was expected to impact on the galloping population growth rate of the country — one of the most serious concerns of the day. Continue reading “What is LSBE?”

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”

A Global Conglomerate of Oppression

Noor Zaheer

By

The pronounced lack of interest in the public health system in Pakistan is not difficult to explain. Public opinion in a country as stratified and uninformed as ours, is created and moulded by the so-called privileged classes, comprising those members of society who have the means to pay for private health care. Hence they are not affected by the abysmal state of health care in the public sector on which the poor depend.

The general attitude is: what is the role of the poor in our society? They are useful only for domestic labour in the homes of the rich or for menial work in public places and factories. And, of course, to vote at election time. A higher birth rate among the impoverished ensures there is never any shortage in the labour force. If they fall sick, they are easily replaced. With limited skills and training, none are really indispensable. Continue reading “A Global Conglomerate of Oppression”

Language myths

By Zubeida Mustafa

LAST week Karachi hosted the Teachers’ Literature Festival — an innovative experiment — to introduce an alternative discourse in education.

Here a lively session on language in learning was held. That teachers should be interested in this is understandable. The issue impacts their work directly. The fact is that the language used in education determines the learning output of students. Their poor performance in independent assessment tests such as ASER actually reflects on the quality of pedagogy they receive. That in turn is a clear measure of our teachers’ skills and professional standards. Continue reading “Language myths”

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”

Learn from China

medcongBy Zubeida Mustafa

THE Sino-Pakistan friendship has stood the test of time. Although the China-Pakistan Eco­nomic Corridor that has been underpin­ned with 51 agreements and MOUs has been generating controversy in abundance, one cannot blame the Chinese. We have the innate capacity of not doing the groundwork for any project we launch. Inevitably, it sparks a dispute.

One positive outcome of the flurry of activity that has come in the wake of the economic corridor is the move by the medical associations of the two countries to set up a ‘medical corridor’. This collaboration resulted in a joint MedCong that was held in Karachi in early January. It was attended by an impressive 40-member Chinese delegation led by Prof Keqin Rao, vice president and secretary general of the Chinese Medical Association. Continue reading “Learn from China”

Remembering Najma Sadeque

Najma

By Deneb Sumbal Sadeque

guest-contributorDear Mum’s friends, peers and colleagues,
On this day, last year my mother, Najma Sadeque, left us so unexpectedly. Losing a parent is always hard, but losing a mother like her is impossible to describe. You feel a huge vacuum and yet feel her strong presence. Someone who didn’t just leave an example for me, but for so many others who reminiscence often. She is still missed by those who loved and revered her. Continue reading “Remembering Najma Sadeque”

SIUT’s philosophy: a rare creed

By Zubeida Mustafa

imagessiutI DISCOVERED the SIUT in the 1980’s when the private sector had begun to invade the healthcare system in Pakistan in a big way.

My quest was for an institution that could meet the health need of the masses at a time when the government was stepping back from its basic responsibility of providing citizens their fundamental right to health.

Of course the SIUT was not known by this name then. It was the Urology Department of the Civil Hospital – a public sector health institution. But even then it was so distinct from its parent body in its working and approach to issues of health and disease that one could not fail to take note. Be it its impeccable hygiene or the atmosphere of kindliness radiated by those who took care of the patients, this institution stood out for its uniqueness. Continue reading “SIUT’s philosophy: a rare creed”