Digging towards food security

Astonishment - 'complete and utter astonishment - was my reaction to discovering that the Punjab government, a body I usually malign rather than praise, has finally undertaken what can only be called an extremely laudable task indeed and, there being a first time for everything, I openly and publicly salute them 'Goodness gracious me.I hear you say, eyebrows raised in shock.What on earth can they have done? Well readers, it seems that they have, at long last and not before time, seen at least a glimmer of light on the pure, unadulterated, chemical free, food front as they have actually - believe this or not - launched a Kitchen Garden Programme aimed at encouraging people to cultivate organic vegetables in their own homes, even if they must do so in pots, in wooden crates and other assorted containers placed wherever there is room and this includes on rooftops. My favourite bit of this advice is that, those who have them, should dig up their lush green lawns and grow food instead. This just happens to be something I have long advocated for a variety of reasons, including wastage of precious water, and for my dream to get government sanction.wellit is beyond belief Commissioner Rawalpindi Division, Mr Zahid Saeed, is of the opinion that people will be able to save themselves a fortune by growing their own vegetables but, whilst this is overly optimistic, it is still correct to say that homegrown, organic food is definitely a far healthier option than purchasing the chemical laden stuff as sold in bazaars. Home produced fresh food also equates with less pollution, be this atmospheric or otherwise, as the need for transport is ruled out. So, it is certainly good news all round if, that is, people do actually buckle down and do it with, one sincerely hopes, the Commissioner himself visibly setting the trend. Mr Saeed does appear to be all fired up with enthusiasm if his recent public speech, made when he inaugurated a seed sales point at the Floriculture Department opposite Nawaz Sharif Park, Shamsabad, Rawalpindi, is anything to judge by. He firmly instructed the Department of Agriculture and its associated bodies to set up demonstration vegetable plots in Nawaz Sharif Park, at the Floriculture Experimental Farm also located in Shamsabad and in the Cut flower/Orchard scheme adjacent to the Murree Road, Islamabad, along with instructions to set up such plots in as many parks and government premises as possible. In addition to this, the Commissioner informed those present that seed sales points were being organised and that for as little as Rs50 people could purchase eight varieties of vegetable seed, enough for a five marla plot, which would provide them with a winter supply of homegrown produce and this, unfortunately, is where the rub lies. Having myself purchased such a seed collection from the National Council for Agricultural Research sales point on Park Road, Chak Shahzad, earlier this year, this collection being of summer season vegetables, I was absolutely disgusted by the extremely low quality of the seeds. Upon opening the packets, it was immediately apparent that these were highly unlikely, old, shrivelled and damaged as they were, to germinate successfully, and if they did, then the germination rate would be no more than 20 percent at the very most. It was in fact less than 10 percent and the emerging seedlings were of such inferior quality that they would never, no matter how well treated, grow into productive vegetable plants. Horticulture being one of my fields, I was able to deduce this and to pull the plants out and throw them on the compost heap, replanting with viable seed from elsewhere, without wasting a full growing season, as an inexperienced gardener would have done. Actively encouraging people to take up vegetable cultivation at home is great, but selling them useless seed is the wrong way to go about it as, with one failed growing season behind them, they are highly unlikely to engage in the enterprise for a second time around which renders what is an otherwise excellent initiative to the realms of wasted time and effort. Provision of top quality, viable seed is an absolute must for the Kitchen Garden Programme to succeed, and it is to be hoped that Mr Saeed, along with responsible members of the relevant government departments, take due note and rectify the issue on an urgent basis. Creating vegetable demonstration plots in parks is a good move, but would be even better if such plots are attended by the staff that is both willing and able to disseminate organic growing instructions to any members of the general public who happen along and, even better if the government is really serious about this initiative, would be to dig vegetable plots in the huge lawns surrounding the kind of palatial mansions and pretend farmhouses many government functionaries reside in: Asking people with small gardens or no garden at all to cultivate vegetables is one thing, and leading the way through example, quite another. Come on Mr Saeed and Co - get out there and dig The writer is author of The Gun Tree: One Womans War (Oxford University Press, 2001) and lives in Bhurban. Email: zahrahnasir@hotmail.com

Zahrah Nasir

The writer is author of The Gun Tree: One Woman’s War (Oxford University Press, 2001) and lives in Bhurban.

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