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Importing gram daal

Part – IV

Random thoughts

This series on the role of agriculture started with the import of gram daal and ends today with the importance of modern technologies. I feel that it is not necessary that only experts write on a given topic. Well-read, lay people can often throw light on certain aspects. However, I would like to stress that my articles are not meant for experts, but for the knowledge and awareness of laypersons only.

Many years ago an international ophthalmology conference was organised by Pakistan at the Alhamra Hall in Lahore. As chief guest I was sitting with the president of the Royal Ophthalmology Society of the UK. Unfortunately, I don’t remember his name but he carried the title of ‘Sir’. Before the proceedings started he whispered to me: “Dr. Khan, you are a famous nuclear scientist, how come you are here?” I whispered back: “Sir, I also happen to have two eyes”. He smiled and said: “Dr, you have shut me up”.

Another such incident was at a conference on cancer in Karachi where there were also some foreign experts. I could see that some of the foreign delegates were eyeing me questioningly and wondering why a nuclear scientist was chief guest. When I gave my address I answered their curiosity by saying that there was nothing strange in this as I too was a human being and as such had a heart and other organs and was prone to disease, including cancer, like everyone else.

I then went on to say that my conscience was clear regarding the production of nuclear weapons as there was no doubt in my mind that our work had prevented renewed war and saved many lives. I also quoted PM Margaret Thatcher who in 1985 said that nuclear weapons had brought peace and stabilisation in Europe and had prevented war.

The same was true for the Subcontinent. Both India and Pakistan were nuclear powers and could not indulge in a war which would definitely destroy both countries. I also told them that my family was kind-hearted, peace-loving and animal lovers but the bomb had ensured the safety and sovereignty of my country. We have 15 cats inside the house and many more on the veranda outside.

My granddaughter brings home any sick or undernourished kitten she finds and my wife is ever-ready to take them in. Dozens of monkeys (including mothers with cute, small babies) visit our house for fruit and swim in the pool. We feed doves and other birds – in short we love all forms of life. After the function some delegates praised my speech saying I had made my point in a clear and acceptable manner.

For agriculture, the biological sciences are very important. It provides knowledge of animals, plants and human beings and their inter-relatedness. It helps us understand the problems of our modern age, the effects of climate change, the structure of human cells, the sources for moral and professional conflicts and much more. Tremendous progress has been made in this field during the last 30 to 40 years.

Biology now also deals with population and environment and is having important effects on these areas. It has had a positive influence on our environment, on medicines and on agriculture. Scientists working in the field are familiar with the use and application of sophisticated instruments and equipment used in medical research. In short, people with knowledge and expertise in biological sciences can, and are, making substantial contributions to the progress of the country.

Biological sciences include molecular biology, genetics, biochemistry, microbiology, chemical and process engineering, etc. Some of the most important inventions/discoveries are insulin, interferon, hormones for human growth, antibiotics, etc. An important, recent discovery made by Prof Dr Abul Hussam (from Bangladesh) of George Mason University, concerns the removal of arsenic from water by a simple and cheap method. For this important discovery, Prof Hussam, who is professor of chemistry and biochemistry, was awarded $1 million and a gold medal by the Academy of Engineers, USA.

The fact that biotechnology is more than 5,000 years old may come as a surprise. It was first used to raise bread with yeast, produce cheese and alcoholic beverages. A spoon of yoghurt added to a pot of milk will soon make a potful of yoghurt. Modern biotechnology owes its wide popularity to the German scientist, Friedrich Miescher, the first to isolate a DNA sample.

Biotechnology is most important, essential even, for agricultural products, fish farming, expansion of existing forests, reforestation, improved crop yields of wheat, rice, maize, barley, fruits, vegetables, etc. The MAS Agricultural University in Rawalpindi and Faisalabad Agricultural University together with NIAB and KIBGE are doing national service. The government should inject funds into this field to ensure safety and self-sufficiency of food in our country.

We have many world-class agricultural experts; the government should be utilising their services rather than placing mediocre bureaucrats in top positions. See how small countries like Holland and Denmark earn billions of dollars worth of exports from vegetables, fruits, flowers, dairy products, etc.

Tailpiece: In order to encourage young Pakistani girls to go abroad for higher studies, here is some good news. Ms Iqra Zubair Awan of Sargodha recently left for Italy to do a PhD in Industrial Chemistry at the University of Bologne. After high school in Sargodha she obtained a BSc Hons from FC College University (in chemistry), Lahore under the guidance of Prof Dr Seemal Jilani. This was followed by an MS in Chemistry from Lahore College for Women University under the guidance of Prof Dr Sana Ahmad and Prof Dr Bushra Khan.

Iqra will spend half of her three years at Bologna (the oldest university in the western world) and the other half at the famous University of Montpellier in France.

My advice to all Pakistani students seeking to go abroad is to have all certificates attested by the Board and the HEC and then from the Foreign Office. Check via the internet what the specific requirements of the professors and universities of your choice are. You will also need a certificate from your professor/supervisor a few months into your final year stating that you are expected to complete an MPhil/MS at the end of the current academic year.

Then start applying. It will take many months before you are able to receive a proper offer or decide between available choices. Don’t be disappointed if you don’t receive a response; send a reminder and then move on. Persistence and perseverance will pay dividends. With a bit of luck, you will succeed.


Email: dr.a.quadeer.khan@gmail.com

Dr. A. Q. Khan, "Importing gram daal," The News. 2015-10-19.
Keywords: Science and technology , Agriculture-Economic , Agricultural aspects , Agriculture-Research , Sustainable agriculture , Agricultural industries , Environmental education , Nuclear scientist , Royal Ophthalmology Society