– by Najma Sadeque
Once upon a time all food was organic or naturally grown, meaning farmers mimicked nature’s processes.
Essentially it meant that farmers were saving seed and returning crop and kitchen wastes and manure to the soil to be chewed and turned into fresh nutrients by earthworms and scores of other microorganisms. It’s a job only these microorganisms can do, and which modern technology can never match. It is biology at work.
This was the time when the only food unsafe to eat was that which was contaminated by unclean water, unhygienic storage, or which that had started rotting. For 10,000 to15,000 years, farmers had been providing safe, nutritious food. Fruits consumed with their skins could be safely eaten freshly plucked from the tree. All food all over the world was entirely organic… until about half a century ago. In that short period, havoc was wreaked.
Today, eating can be a hazard because food crops are liberally sprayed with chemicals to kill insects that seek to dine on a few plants. Some western scientists felt they could ‘improve’ on nature by using more chemicals. One erroneously concluded that plants required only three elements (nitrogen, potash and phosphorus) to grow.
That proved to be a godsend for suppliers after the World Wars, saddled with tens of thousands of tons of surplus, unsold chemicals used for ammunition and arms manufacturing. They claimed the same science to market chemicals as the best fertilisers.
To this day, chemicals remain the mainstay of corporations spreading artificial fertilisers around the world. The result has been degradation of the soils worldwide so that millions of acres go permanently out of production every year. That is not all. Poisons have been invented to deal with every kind of pest, rodent, weed, fungi, mildew and mould. What most people do not know is that these poisons were originally designed for warfare.
The US used millions of gallons to defoliate jungles to drive out the Vietnamese, the effects of which linger to this day in the form of deformed babies being born. The corporations felt what effectively destroyed people and forests could even more effectively destroy pests. The US alone uses a billion tons of pesticides every year rendering it the world’s most self-poisoned country, making every third person, including small children, a cancer candidate.
It is said that in many cases only one part out of a thousand parts of pesticides sprayed actually reaches its target. Around 99.9 per cent poison the environment, people, livestock and wildlife instead. The consequence is the eradication of the essential microorganisms, insects and other microorganisms in the environment.
Because the oceans, seas, rivers, weather and winds are all interconnected, these excess chemicals have reached the remotest areas, including the polar regions, entering the bloodstream of bears, seals and penguins. There is hardly a country left today that has not been affected.
Chemicals have also come to be known as ‘gender-benders’ in the West because they are compromising the gender of wildlife, threatening their survival. Continuous spraying of chemicals on large plantations renders them infertile, it has been determined. On the other hand, organic farming was never expensive. Seed came free; so did organic fertiliser (manure and plant composts). Farmers added their labour that cost them only their sweat.
Organic farming, like nature, depends on biological diversity which exists in thousands, millions or billions. Generally, the smaller a plant or animal or flying species, the more numerous they are. Their health depends on intermingling and supporting one another directly or indirectly. Biodiversity also keeps pests at bay because no pest likes all crops, and when there’s a mix of crops, they attract fewer pests.
Biodiversity began to crumble when the colonisers introduced monoculture in their clonies—the planting of a single crop variety over hundreds or thousands of acres and the removal of all other plants forever. Matters took a turn for the worse when the US agricultural scientists developed hybrid seeds which supposedly incorporated the best characteristics of the best of wheat or rice seeds.
Unfortunately, they only give higher output for a few years, lose most of their nutritional value and taste, and do not reproduce, forcing farmers to buy expensive seed from corporations and eventually turning them into a losing venture for both farmers and consumers. Scientist estimate the world has lost 75 per cent of its biodiversity. Less than a century ago, India grew 30,000 varieties of rice. Today it grows only 10. China boasted over 10,000 varieties of wheat. Today it has only a handful.
Today, it is not the question whether Pakistan can afford to return to full-fledged organic farming. Neither Pakistan, nor any other country can afford not to do so because the soil’s natural biodiversity has been lost forever and we need to grow more food to feed more people every year. The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation has repeatedly warned that unless countries return to safe, sustainable, ecological agriculture, global agriculture faces total collapse.
This article was published in the daily DAWN’s inpagemagazine on July 12th, 2011. http://www.dawn.com/2011/07/10/naturally-yours.html