A new Hemphasis

By Helga Ahmad

Commercial hemp plants are grown for fiber production in Canada

 

International reports have warned Pakistan for many years about the looming water crisis the country will face if it doesn’t take essential measures to prevent it. A reduced inflow of irrigation water will have a substantial effect on the food chain. But a growing problem that has been ignored is that Pakistan’s canal irrigated agricultural soil is dying because of the massive use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides, losing its chemical balance and therefore its carrying capacity.

Seventeen years ago, a group of Dutch scientists led by a Pakistani colleague undertook a study in the rural areas of Sialkot that supply fresh vegetables to Lahore and Islamabad during winter. They periodically tested canal and tube-well irrigated soil, and the growing vegetables, for a full growth cycle. The final samples were taken from vehicles ready to take the vegetables to the market. Volumes of scientific data revealed that they were not fit for human consumption.

At the Shaukat Khanum Cancer Hospital in Lahore, pre-teen girls from rural areas that grow tobacco are being treated for cancer. They are among the many young girls who string up tobacco leaves during the harvesting season for the drying chambers. The tobacco crop requires up to 16 pesticide sprays. An effort to establish an extensive program to raise natural predators for the pest failed. The problem is growing rapidly, and is now even affecting newborns.

Commercial interests played a major role in propagating the “Reefer Madness” hysteria in the US in the mid-1930s
In the cotton growing belt, young cotton pickers are exposed to the dried pesticide residue in the plants. Cottonwood is also burnt as fuel in the nearby villages, and women inhale the fumes while cooking. Some reports say other crops grown in the same soil also acquire the harmful effects of pesticides. This puts a large number of people at the risk of cancer.

A Pakistani dairy company was not allowed to export milk products to Malaysia because the pesticide residue was far higher than the WHO standards. Cottonseed cake, a major animal feed, is also a carrier, besides the fodder that acquires it from the soil. Decades of use of heavy farm machinery rolling over agricultural lands has hardened the top soil, destroying its natural fauna, which used to feed on the dry vegetative matter and was known to build up healthy humus content.

Before things get worse, perhaps we need to look westward where efforts are underway to find alternative solutions to the increasing natural hazards, finally acknowledged to be mainly man-made. The focus today in the West as well as China is on the benefits of hemp (cannabis sativa) – a plant that has been prohibited in our country for decades.

Hemp fiber length is up to 15 feet. Cotton fiber is less than one inch long
It is now an established fact that commercial interests played a major role in propagating the “Reefer Madness” hysteria in the mid-1930s, although industrial hemp was already a major crop in the US. Hemp was then considered a serious competitor to newly developing technologies in the synthetic fiber, textile, timber and paper oil, composite wood, and pharmaceutical industries. Aggressive lobbying for marijuana prohibition began, and the plant is still banned in the US. The industrial hemp that was the basic raw-material for Henry Ford’s car industry was wiped off the map.

 

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