Man is the noblest of all creations. All nature including sun, moon, stars and sky has been subservient to man. Human race is raised up as the best community for mankind. Despite this lofty station, human nature is described as frail and faltering. Whereas everything in universe has a limited nature and every creature recognizes its limitations and insufficiency, man is self destroyed, ungrateful, rebellious, mischief maker, full of pride, arrogating to himself the attributes of self sufficiency.
MAN-THE CROWN OF CREATION
Out of the whole creation on Earth, it is the human being only, who is crowned with the power of a higher intellect and is hence known as ‘Ashraf-ul-Makhlooqat’- the crown of creation. He can select what is right or wrong for himself and for his fellow beings and can adopt measures for saving his environment. He can select which food is beneficial for him without making any waste and he can plan, how to save and distribute the surplus food among his fellow creatures that are starving due to unequal distribution or due to poverty.
The other side of the coin is that in spite of being equipped with higher intellect, it is man only who is responsible for generating tremendous waste and all other animals like street dogs, monkeys, wandering cattle, flying birds and even insects serve as scavengers to consume most of this consumable waste and they at times fall prey to the hazardous effects of harmful wastes. Even the trees which are axed by man, exhale oxygen which is inhaled by man and they in turn inhale the carbon dioxide exhaled by man. Besides they bear fruits and fuel for man. The flora and fauna yield fragrance to the atmosphere and add different colors like lavenders, roses, daffodils and tulips etc. to the surroundings. The chirping birds and running streams usher into a music that sends a man to sleep. The singing bees provide curing sweet honey. The medicinal plants provide us with curing drugs. But it is man who pollutes his own atmosphere with carbon dioxide, poisonous gases and causes noise pollution. Man’s arrogance has made inroads even into the depletion of his protective ozone layer. He pollutes his own waters of springs, rivers and lakes, which ultimately terminate into the seas of the globe adversely affecting the marine life. He also is responsible for the pollution of soil, which feeds him, sustains him and also which gets trampled under his feet without registering any protest.
EARTH THE ONLY KNOWN LIVING PLANET
The evolution of earth from cold stellar debris to spinning dynamo and the gradual building of the atmosphere may be unique in the universe. No other planet in the solar system at least shows any sign of life. Of the four building blocks for life, hydrogen was created in the first second of the universe, carbon; nitrogen and oxygen were fused in the great nuclear core of a massive star that exploded before our sun was formed. It was the energy of our sun, however, that forged these elements into the complex molecules from which life developed. But, as well as being a giver of life, the sun can also be deadly and the earth requires protection from its lethal rays.
Out of all the galaxies of innumerable existing known stars in the Universe, it is the Earth only which carries life on it, that was considered to be sustained by water, fire, soil and air – (Aab-o-Atash, Khak-o-Baad- the char anasir)-the four basic elements. When life began, 3.5 billion years ago, the first oceans were still only a few degrees below boiling point. There, in waters bombarded by ultraviolet light from space and played on by lightning from massive thunderstorms, the first amino and nucleic acids, the building blocks for life, were formed. It has happened many times and in many places in the Universe- astronomers have detected amino acids floating between the stars- but on earth it gave rise to a history of life which may be unique in its extraordinary variety and abundance.
There are between 3 to 10 million different kinds of plants and animals alive today and possibly twice as many were once alive but are now extinct. Everyone has been built from these basic materials and yet everyone is unique. That is the double miracle of creation: the flow of genetic information across the ages and the editing of that information into almost countless separate categories. The editor is the environment. It selects those organisms for survival that are best suited to life in each particular environmental niche and ruthlessly destroys those that cannot make use of the resources around them.
The story of mankind begins in the tropical forests of at least 65 million years ago. Some 35,000 years ago, human beings physically just like ourselves were living in Europe, Africa and Asia. Over the first 2 million years of human history, our ancestors were entirely dependent upon nature’s whims of food. It is only within last 10,000 years that they have settled down to farm the land and control their own food supply.
About 7 billion people are alive today (growing to 9 billion by 1950). Every second three more are added to the total, a growth of more than 10.000 an hour and over 80 million in the space of a year.
Food is mankind’s raw energy resource- the fuel that fires the human boiler- and maintaining supplies constitutes man’s biggest single concern.
Agricultural efficiency has increased at a staggering pace: in 1980 the World’s farms produced twice as much food as they did in 1950. As a result, the earth today grows enough food to support its population, with plenty to spare. But the pattern of production is uneven and many areas still go short.
Thousands of different kinds of plants are consumed by man but first three – wheat, corn and rice –account for about half of the world’s harvest. By no means every niche of the planet’s surface can be exploited for crop farming, however for a combination of three basic factors- sunshine, moisture and soil – determines where the global harvest can be gathered in. At present only 11 percent of the earth’s land surface is farmed for crops, while a further 20 percent is thought to be cultivable.
One major factor in the recent boon in food production has been the development of new, high-yielding strains of wheat, corn and rice. Cultivated with modern fertilizers, herbicides, pesticides and irrigation techniques, these grains have generated what is known as the Green Revolution. Bumper harvests have been the result. But the techniques modeled on the practices of U.S agriculture have had their critics too. The chemicals required by high-yield strains are derived chiefly from fossil fuels, which have become increasingly costly since the oil crises of 1973. Mechanized farming too, consumes energy resources- about 25 gallons of gasoline are required to produce one acre of corn in USA. Such farming tends to benefit large farmer with capital to invest at the expense of the small farmer.
The world is witnessing adjustment towards the kind of organic farming practiced in China. Here crop waste is recycled to provide fertilizer, so that less synthetic matter is required. In addition mixed cropping is practiced: grains are planted with legumes- the soybean- is already a post world war 2nd success story in the developing world. It is grown increasingly for its high protein content and adaptability and its oil is used for making paints and chemicals, as well as margarines and cooking oils.
The greatest hopes for feeding future generations lie in plant breeding and genetics. Resistance to pests and diseases can be bred into crops so that spraying with hazardous chemicals becomes increasingly obsolete. Strains may be developed to cope with harsh climates of desert or tundra. Modern techniques of gene transfer offer possibilities for cultivating radically improved species. Tens of thousands of potentially edible species have been identified and it may yet prove possible to carpet the world’s most barren wastes with new forms of nutritious vegetation.
HOW THE PLANET PROVIDES
Prophet Muhammad (PBH) said over 1400 years back: Planting a tree is a continuous source of blessing (Sadaqa Jariah) for the person who plants it. Shaikh-ul-Alam, Shaikh Noor-ud-Din Noorani (RA) (d. 1430 AD) – a great Kashmiri Sufi saint said about six hundred years back- “ANN POSHI TELI YELI WAN POSHI”- i.e. food is subservient to forests.
The dense multilayered canopy of the tropical forests is one of the miracles of life on earth. It covers only 8 percent of earth’s surface but may harbor more than 40 percent of all species of plants and animals. This massive biological resource not only provides fuel and building materials but is a critical regulator of the world environment, protecting the topsoil, governing even the flow of rivers, and on a global scale, helping to maintain a balanced climate. But the forests are under pressure. As many as 100 acres of tropical forests are being destroyed every minute- a total of over 83,000 sq. miles a year. Perhaps twice that area is being seriously degraded. Timber harvesting and cattle ranching play their part in the destruction, but as significant are the slash and burn techniques of the 150 million forest farmers in the world today. Some places such as westernmost Amazon and parts of the Zaire basin, where the population is not so intense can be sure to survive at least partly intact.. But in western Africa, Southeast Asia, and the Himalayan watershed, most of the unique and the irreplaceable forest will soon have gone forever. The only real solutions to the destruction of the tropical rainforest lie in the control of population growth; increasing yields of good land; planting alternative sources of timber and fuel wood; and ecological sensitivity in development projects.
About one third of earth’s surface, fringing the great deserts, is arid, often subjected to prolonged draught. Natural ecosystems here are adapted to long dry spells and can take them in their stride. But when such areas are put under pressure by rising populations and the demand for food, their ability to spring back to productiveness after draught is severely reduced. The rains when they come, rather than soaking into and feeding the land, can wash away the soil, extending the limits of the desert. Every year about 47,000 sq. miles of agricultural land are made worthless this way. The process of desertification is probably worsened by the increasing levels of carbon dioxide and other gases in the atmosphere, produced by the burning of fossil fuels, which are likely to raise global temperature within this century by up to 4.5 degrees C. A problem of such vast proportions is not easily dealt with. A reduction in carbon dioxide emission from the industrial countries will help. Keeping animals and vehicles off certain areas can reestablish vegetation. The deliberate planting of forest and shrub stands- in the Soviet Republics, India, and China – reduces erosion on a local scale.
Climate and environment are the world’s great chefs, giving Mexico its tortillas, Greece its goats milk, cheese; China its pork spareribs and Japan its seafood dishes. And it is regional variations in these two factors that strongly influence what is raised where.
As stated above the world’s three main cereals are wheat, corn and rice, each of which has its special needs. Wheat is a crop of the temperate prairies and will tolerate very cold winters. Corn is vulnerable to frost and is therefore confined to a warmer climate band. And rice favors the special combination of warmth and copious rainfall that is found especially in monsoon zones.
Grain constitutes about half of the world’s food production by weight, but similar factors associate other crops with particular environments: for example, grapes with Mediterranean climates and the potato with dull, cloudy skies and clammy soils.
There are vast expanses of desert and bleak uplands whose lean and rocky soils support little more than coarse grasses. Since the human stomach cannot digest grass, it is the livestock here in particular the sheep and the goats- that act as our food converters, yielding meat, milk and cheese.
Cattle can be raised in a temperate band stretching from the edge of the Sahara to the margins of the Arctic Circle. But cattle, like sheep are ruminant’s digestive system calls for a diet chiefly of grass and which require wide grazing area. These are an inefficient food resource for the world’s overpopulated regions and due to vulnerability to the tsetse fly, are especially scarce in the humid tropics. China is the main producer of pork yielding nearly 40 percent of the global total.
Fish like all other food-stuffs, display preferences for habitat. Cod favors the cold waters of the North Atlantic, while tuna prefer warmer seas; flatfish, such as halibut feed on the seabed, while herring cruise close to the surface. The principal fishing grounds are all in coastal zones where nutrients, leached from the land, mix with the rich sediment that is swept up from the sea floor by ocean currents and offshore winds. These waters comprise our teeming marine meadow lands, thick with tiny plankton supporting larger organisms that are, in turn, consumed by shoaling fish. In total the earth’s fishing fleets bring in some 68 million tons a year. Japan, with its intricate network of islands, has an ancient fishing tradition and remains the largest single harvester of the sea.
AVAILABILITY AND FAMINES
If the global harvests were shared out equally, each person could receive 5lbs. (2.3 kgs.) of food per day. Hunger need never be with us.
The reason why famines still take their terrible toll has more to do with the complexities of politics, economics, storage and distribution than with the physical capacity of the earth itself. The planet is fertile. Science has opened up new possibilities. And, in the opinion of many experts the age old scourge of hunger could with global cooperation, be eradicated in the near future.
To meet future needs, we can colonize the world’s inhabitable areas. The earth’s total cultivable land is some 7.9 billion acres, of which less than half is currently being farmed. Although the remainder may be harsh or inaccessible terrain, we have the means to drain swamps, plant hillsides and bring deserts into bloom.
One short term response to starvation in the third world is to transport surplus food from where it is stockpiled to where it is needed. The biggest grain exporters are USA, Canada, Australia and Argentina. Thanks to the green revolution, India, Thailand, Burma and Surinam can now be added to the list of smaller net exporters. Many others for example Mexico and the Soviet Republics would be the net grain exporters but for the demands of live stock, which now consume more grain than grass.
Lakhs of animals are slaughtered on Id-uz-zuha in Haj pilgrimage, only a small part of which would be distributed in earlier days and the rest bull-dozed into the ground, but now it has been made possible to dispatch the surplus meat to starving countries.
In the long term, however the transporting of surplus food does nothing to help farmers in poor countries to produce more. Indeed, pouring cheap food into third world can lower prices there so much that local farmers are put out of business. Except in emergencies, perhaps what poor countries need most is appropriate technology, transport facilities, education and better administration.
One global measure of food production is provided by the average number of calories supplied by the agriculture of different countries. How many calories an individual actually needs depend on his or her body weight, type of activity and the environmental temperature. Accounting for these variables, the FAO of UN estimates the average daily needs of a person in Finland, where a relatively old population lives in a tropical climate; the average is 2,160 calories per day. One must eat what he needs and overeating leads to obesity and other resultant diseases, besides wastage of food.
Wastage of food is prohibited by all. The Holy Quran says: “KULU WASHRABU WALA TUSRIFU”- You may eat and drink but do not cross the limits. A Hakim from Syria stayed for six months in Madina at the time of Prophet Muhammad (PBH), but had to leave as no patient visited him. On enquiry, he was told that people fill a third of their stomach with solid food and a third with liquid and leave a third empty. The Hakim concluded that most of the diseases are stomach related, hence the result. Besides there are many instances, when people served the needy and themselves preferred to go hungry.
Here is a lesson for us not to serve excessive food with meat in wazwan resulting into waste that could feed many more starving people. In olden days, sharing food on a plate by four people served with just seven preparations of meat/vegetables would generate no wastage, but the later extravagance and false showmanship with over 20 preparations of meat and chicken has made it a curse in these hard times. The height of things is that we indulge and participate with great interest in these extravagant functions yet simultaneously lamenting and condemning while sharing the wazwan. In this behalf the procedure adopted by Arabs and South Indians is preferable, when they gather around a huge plate full of Biryani etc, and pour their desirable share in their respective plates causing zero wastage. Many people are shifting to buffet service now in Kashmir too which eliminates wastage.
J&K – FOOD DEFICIT STATE:
The Economic Survey 2012-13 reveals that J&K State is a food deficit and consumer state. The state is mostly depended on the import of food grains from other states and that the day-by-day dependence of the state for food grains from outside is increasing. During 2011-12, import and off take of food grains stood at 908.22 and 856.27 thousand metric tones which respectively were 20 per cent and 14 percent more than the previous year.
It is also reported that due to random conversion of farm land, the agricultural production is decreasing day by day. While the State Government in 2011 had decided to bring law to ban the conversion of farm land for commercial or non-farm use, the law is yet to see the light of the day. In Kashmir alone more than two lakh kanals of agricultural land of the net sown or cultivated area of 3.5 lakh hectares has been converted for commercial and other purposes. The situation is no better in Jammu. The conversion of farmlands for residential purposes has negative consequences on food security, water supply besides health of the people, both in the cities and in the peripheries. If the conversion of agricultural land continues at the same pace, in coming years the state would have no agricultural land according to an official of SKUAST. Agriculture was the largest land use category in 1971, covering an area of 70.13 per cent of Srinagar district which has been reduced to 48.93 percent in 2009 at an annual rate of -0.79 percent. The maximum conversion has taken place along major transportation corridors around the city, therefore giving rise to ribbon settlements. Presently dozens of colonies are coming up on agriculture land in different parts of the Valley. Even residential houses and restaurants are being constructed on it. The law enforcement agencies need to curb the menace before the problem assumes horrendous proportions.”
FOOD SECURITY BILL
A healthy development has been that the Food Security Bill is being introduced in the current session of Parliament.
The Bill seeks “to provide for food and nutritional security in human life cycle approach, by ensuring access to adequate quantity of quality food at affordable prices to people to live a life with dignity and for matters connected therewith and incidental thereto”.
It extends to the whole of India and “shall come into force on such date as the Central Government may, by notification in the Official Gazette appoint, and different dates may be appointed for different States and different provisions of this Act”
The Bill has three schedules (these can be amended “by notification”). Schedule 1 prescribes issue prices for the PDS. Schedule 2 prescribes “nutritional standards” for midday meals, take-home rations and related entitlements. For instance, take-home rations for children aged 6 months to 3 years should provide at least 500 calories and 12-15 grams of protein. Schedule 3 lists various “provisions for advancing food security”, under three broad headings: (1) revitalization of agriculture (e.g. agrarian reforms, research and development, remunerative prices), (2) procurement, storage and movement of food grains (e.g. decentralized procurement), and (3) other provisions (e.g. drinking water, sanitation, health care, and “adequate pensions” for “senior citizens, persons with disability and single women”).
J&K State has been the pioneer state in providing food rations to urban areas right from Maharaja’s time, which is/was followed by other states.
A LESSON TO LEARN
We have a lesson to learn from the newly developing cities of Abu Dhabi and Dubai. These cities are littered with no solid/liquid wastes or polythene; have no noise pollution or dust pollution indoors, no street dogs, no beggars, no uniformed/armed policemen to be sighted. Building laws are strictly followed and every spot is designed and executed as per consultant’s advice with all aesthetic appeal. The cities have developed with 5-lane roads either way with foot paths bedecked with green grass and flowers and palm trees with intermittent irrigation facilities. During the past about four decades, mud huts have got converted to sky scrapers including the world’s tallest building Burji Khalifa. Metro has been introduced for a faster travel. A new city “Masdar” is coming up all based on solar energy banning use of fossil fuels in all devices.
INDIVIDUAL EFFORTS NEEDED
In our homes the compostable solid wastes can be converted into useful compost for kitchen garden by dumping it regularly in a circular pit of one meter diameter and one and a half meter depth, with no lining but covered with a lid. Addition of lime over every foot layer is advisable. This could eliminate the use of harmful chemical compost. Individual efforts can make a big impact and reduce the burden on the Municipal authorities, who have utterly failed to establish a mechanical compost plant in Srinagar city, recommended by UEED three decades back. Similarly construction of a cheaper alternative of twin pit low cost ‘suchalya’ instead of the costly sanitary fitted toilets with septic tank and soakage pit has proved a success story in many cities/ villages of India and in more than 21 UNDP countries. Our rural/urban sanitation needs to adopt this program in a big way
Er. Mohammad Ashraf Fazili FIE (Retd. Chief Engineer)