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”

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”

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”

‘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”

Peace women

By Zubeida Mustafa

THE Tehreek-i-Niswan and Sheema Kermani have always been at the forefront when matters of peace are at stake. Many performances by the Tehreek have been directed at protesting the brutality of violence against and oppression of women. Hence it was quite in keeping with its character that the group convened a ‘peace table’ on Oct 15, at the Karachi Arts Council. Here hundreds of women and also men assembled to reinforce the widely held, but unimplemented, belief that female involvement in peacemaking improves the chances of lasting security.

A landmark resolution (1325) was adopted by the UN Security Council 15 years ago calling for women to be included in decision-making positions at every level of peacemaking. It has so far made a nominal impact. The head of UN Women, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, admits that globally “women’s participation at peace tables is still symbolic or low”. Continue reading “Peace women”

Myths and reality

By Zubeida Mustafa

Sindh24-13-06-1986THE census is one of the trickiest issues in Pakistan today because of its political and economic implications. Our policymakers have found a way around the problem. They adopt an ostrich-like approach thus hoping to wish away the challenge that the 190.3 million (World Population Review) people pose.

No census has been held in Pakistan since 1998 — the preliminary housing survey that was undertaken in 2011 was aborted when it became too controversial. Now it has been reported that the census planned for 2016 and announced in March is unlikely to be held.

The government cannot be condoned for its negligence. Policymaking has to go on and some numerical guidelines always help. Despite the apathy of the official sector, demographic statistics have registered an improvement — but not enough to make an impact. Continue reading “Myths and reality”