“Yes, the rich. And that’s their misfortune. You see, if you keep adding copper bit by bit to a child’s food, you prevent the growth of its bones, and he’ll be a dwarf; and if from his youth up you poison a man with gold, you deaden his soul”—Maxim Gorky (Mother)
Mr. Asif Sharif, the great agriculturist guru and a living legend, rightfully says and asks: “Gold is found free yet deliberately made scarce to increase its price. Is gold worth anything if there is no food?”
There can be no two opinions about the significance of precious metals as these have played a crucial role in the progress achieved by mankind. Undoubtedly, the quest of possessing these minerals has led many to inflict wars, loot, plunder, subjugate nations converting the world into a miserable place. On the one hand, great progress has been achieved due to the human ability to mould these elements and on the other, the same elements have stupefied the sensibility of these humans. What were originally meant for the benefit of mankind became a source of distress and agony. The same metals that helped man cut wood, do farming, build roads, bridges and buildings, use for beautification and art, have somehow got converted into lethal weapons like the atomic bombs, powerful enough to wipe out human and animal populations in addition to destroying flora and fauna.
Among these precious metals, gold takes a prime position. It is a metal of choice for such things as medical and technological industries because of its pliability and being good conductor of electricity, besides serving as symbol of power throughout mankind’s historical journey. Even today one can see the Arab Sheikhs of the Middle Eastern countries craving for 24 karat gold plated cars, doors and even toilets (disgusting!) to show off their petro-dollars to the world. People around the world cherish gold as the most sought after metal for jewellery and clothes. Academicians and sportspersons aspire for gold medals being proof of their high achievement. In South Asian countries, brides are often tortured for not bringing sufficient amount of gold in their dowry. Such is the value of this lifeless object that it invokes human sacrifice.
For those who possess gold, security is important thus the need to procure vaults, engage guards, install close circuit cameras and make arrangements for safe transport. Those who are not too fortunate, either make do with imitation, go to painful extents to buy, envy the owners or just stand before show cases greedily ogling the displayed ornaments. The attraction for this yellow metal is so great that authors like Zecharia Sitchin have written bestsellers in which beings (whom he calls gods) visit the earth from far off planet to extract and take away this metal which is indispensable for them. Until a few years back, some countries like Great Britain had their currency or paper money’s value directly linked to gold so only its equivalent was printed as cash. Other than this, many electronic items in today’s high-tech world use gold to enable trouble free and maintenance free working since it is a good conductor and is non-corrosive. One can write many pages on the uniqueness of gold and its use in various aspects of life but is it superior to food or better still, can it replace food?
Human beings’ survival principally depends on nourishment provided by food of different kinds. From the hunted meals in the earliest known epochs to the fast food modern world, if there is anything that man cannot ward off, it is intake of food that is not only filling but also has the necessary means of sustenance, vital for growth and health of human bodies. Simply put, we can do without precious metals but we cannot without nutrients. This leads to the idea of growing the right type of crops that contain all the good things our body requires without having elements that may be damaging to our health in the long run—value of agrarian knowledge cannot be equated with the knowledge of metallurgy. No matter how prestigious an Olympic gold medal is for athletes their desire to earn it is directly related to proper dietary intake.
Consequently, logic requires that human beings should be investing more in seeking ways to produce good quality grains, fruits and vegetables in order to raise humans with exceptional health and immunity against diseases but thanks to lust for material gains, we side-tracked into commercial productions by increased use of artificial fertilizers, intense recourse to pesticides and brutal tilling of earth, exposing and killing soil microbes imperative for nourishing crops. As a result, the quality of our food has dropped to a level that although we are eating but our bodies are getting more and more prone to disease and decay. To make matters worse, rapid climate change and environmental degradation has badly affected the weather system to the point that farming has become more challenging than before. There is an urgent need for the government, especially in Pakistan, to divert immediate attention towards sustainable agriculture if it wants to survive as a nation.
Compared to many other countries, Pakistan is blessed with the most conducive environment for agriculture but right now the main players in this field are not the farmers but the many multi-national industries bent upon rendering fallow this priceless fertile land. In the wake of deteriorating ecology, the future of food production seems bleak therefore, it is crucial to make a pragmatic head start in this area. The recent Covid-19 break-out has witnessed lock-downs in major cities and partial suspension of industries causing many to lose jobs. Come to think of it, one can remain unemployed, the wheels of industries can remain still, we can live without internet or even electricity but we cannot afford to starve. The way things are, countries that have the capability to grow food would be the ones to have a domineering status in the forthcoming ages.
If Pakistan has to revive its self-respect in the international comity, to stand up on its feet, to help its people to survive and to become beneficial to the world, it would have to focus on improving its agricultural outputs to a degree that it becomes the future bread basket of not just for the Pakistanis but also for others. With rapid climatic changes, conditions for farming in many parts of the world are getting adversely affected giving Pakistan a golden opportunity to boost up its economy. Time and again, as writers, we have emphasised on the benefits of natural production means to cultivate crops that carry essential ingredients for nourishment and better health while simultaneously reducing costs to a great extent. Our survival is in what we are good at and that is agriculture, so let us strive to excel.
The writer, lawyer and author, is an Adjunct Faculty at Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS), member Advisory Board and Senior Visiting Fellow of Pakistan Institute of Development Economics (PIDE)