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Stocking grains for family use 
By Altamash M. Kureshi
 

IT is shocking that ten Afghans are reported to have died and more than 100 fallen ill with liver disease after eating wheat contaminated with a poisonous plant that grows with it. It is the second such incident after 1974.

Not very long ago when market forces were yet to be unleashed in the name of globalisation, the country’s rural areas were still holding ground as the bulwark for producing food grains, pulses, vegetables, milk, ghee and above all cheap labour for the urban dwellers. They were not only feeding the entire country with quality food stuff but were the main source of raw material for the cotton ginning and pressing factories to export the value-added cotton related products.

Up to 1956-57 the country had achieved autarky in food. Food grains were produced in abundance and sold in the market by rural community after saving some stock for the use of their families during lean periods. Since wheat was the staple food, it was ensured that not only it was stored properly but also protected from fungus and other insects.

The method employed was indigenous, cheap and very simple. What they did was that first the grain was kept in earthen wares which are good at absorbing moisture; hence the best safety from fungus infection. Thereafter, the leaves of Neem, an evergreen tree known as nature’s drugstore, were used to protect the grain from different insects.

This evergreen tree which is anthelmintic, anti-fungal, antibacterial, antiviral, anti-infertility, and sedative is grown in Sindh in abundance. It was not only used for different ailments but its thin branches were also used for cleansing teeth.

In the summer because of its thick foliage, the tree provides cool air. Therefore, people prefer resting under its shade. In India, it is considered a major component in Ayurvedic medicine and is particularly prescribed for skin disease. It is also said that Neem tree protects from common flue and is planted almost in every house in interior Sindh.

When the stored wheat was brought out for use, the household ladies first of all rinsed it with clean water to purify it of dust and any insects and then keep it under the sun for a whole day to dry. After these processes, it was sent to atta chaki for grinding.

These traditions have vanished and are now stories of the past. The rural economy which up to sixties was vibrant and self-sufficient in food items gradually got impoverished because of government’s subsequent lopsided policies, tilted towards urban development. So much so that even the peasants whose main staple is wheat are not able to preserve it for their family use because of other pressing day-to-day demands. Thus they are now constrained to purchase flour from the open market. This flour is derived from wheat imported from wheat-surplus developed countries.

It is a known fact these countries do not sell their fresh produce. The fresh surplus grain they always keep for emergencies. What they always offer for sale is the old stocks in the cycle of three years. In order to keep these stocks safe from various insects, different chemical preservatives are used. Therefore, the stuff is not as healthy as fresh one.

When these chemically-treated stocks are not cleansed before sending to flour mills, the grain becomes highly injurious for human health. Unfortunately, the small atta chakies spread over the vastness of country are not conscious of these hazards of utilising this untreated wheat. As a result, people living in our rural areas are suffering from numerous ailments. Another significant factor which has contributed towards the deteriorating health of our people is the use of unwholesome flour from which various by-products such maida, suji and nishasta have already been separated leaving it less nutrient.

Agriculture being the backbone of economy has suffered from continuous neglect. However, its innate strength and buoyancy can be brought back to its primal position if appropriate polices are made for the development of agriculture sector as a whole. It is in the well-being and comfort of the growers where the self-sufficiency and happiness of the country lies.


Courtesy: The DAWN
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