National challenges workshop | By Dr Abdus Sattar Abbasi


National challenges workshop

IT was a learning experience to participate in the National Challenges Workshop (NCW) on October 21, 2022 with the tagline of ‘A road to knowledge-based solutions’.

Participants from eight universities of Lahore along with industry representatives spent an exceptionally productive day with thought provoking presentations in the first half of the day followed by focus groups after lunch to present key findings in the last session.

There were some exciting presentations on environmental issues highlighting conflicting views of different countries, food and nutrition security, poverty alleviation, youth engagement, potential of IT industry, economic difficulties, land utilization, unemployment, contribution of different sectors in creating jobs, role of agriculture sector as a whole to eliminate existing problems and role of social media in today’s age.

A learned presenter unfolded mysteries surrounding the global campaign on environmental challenges and conflicting positions of the European Union (EU) and the United States of America (USA).

His argument was based on some astonishing but convincing evidences such as: first, there is a bit of exaggeration about the impact of greenhouse emissions because in the history some volcanic eruptions have contributed exceptional greenhouse gasses probably more than accumulated impact of entire industrialization; second, EU is ambitious only because the region lacks sources of fossil fuel therefore extensively campaigning to exploit green and renewable energy sources to develop entirely new market to create employment opportunities; third, he categorized environmental challenges as a normal natural cycle for several millennia linking his argument to the story of a messenger who interpreted the dream of the king and later managed as seven green and most productive years followed by a spell of drought.

He was also cynical about a campaign against HFCs to prevent ozone depletion. A sentence of another presenter served as an eye-opener for all participants stating “One in every nine people in the world is hungry and one in every three is obese or overweight – a double burden.

”Liusen Wang and colleagues from National Institute for Nutrition and Health, Chinese Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, Beijing China argue, “With the continuous development of the economy and agricultural modernization in the past three decades, nutritional deficiency issues have been gradually improving.

However, new nutritional and health challenges have emerged. Overweight and obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, and other chronic diseases have increasingly become a major disease burden.

At present, one in every nine people in the world is hungry, and one in every three is overweight or obese.

More and more countries experience the double burden of malnutrition, where undernutrition coexists with overweight, obesity, and other diet-related non-communicable diseases (NCDs).

” According to Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) these NCDs include cardiovascular diseases which account for most NCD deaths of around 17.9 million people annually, followed by cancers (9.0 million), respiratory diseases (3.9million), and diabetes (1.6 million), globally. These 4 groups of diseases account for over 80% of all premature NCD deaths.

UNICEF’s Maternal, Infant and Young Child Feeding Nutrition (MIYCN) campaign aims to promote new norms around feeding practices among mothers and families, cultivate greater understanding about good nutrition-related behaviour and improve nutrition outcomes for children in the first 1000 days.

Malnutrition remains a key development challenge that can have a lasting impact on children and prevent them from achieving their full potential in life leading to a “triple burden” of chronic malnutrition, micronutrient deficiencies (“hidden hunger”), and an emerging trend of overweight and obesity.

To prevent malnutrition in young children it is critical that we understand the determinants of nutrition-related behaviour and feeding practices and promote new norms around feeding practices among mothers and families, cultivate greater understanding among communities about good nutrition-related behaviour and contribute towards improving nutrition outcomes for children in the first 1000 days of their life.

Our efforts to ensure the availability of cheaper food have driven the expansion of agricultural land and intensive farming.

Failure to account for the environmental cost of food production has led to habitat destruction and pollution compounding to the overall biodiversity loss of the planet.

According to the last year’s report of Chatham House, “Despite increasing recognition of the crucial role of biodiversity in maintaining human and planetary health, biodiversity is declining faster than at any time in human history, and perhaps as fast as during any mass extinction.

Especially over the past 50 years, biodiversity has been severely compromised and altered at an unprecedented rate.

The global rate of species extinction is at least tens and possibly hundreds of times higher than the average rate over the past 10 million years.

Around a quarter of species in most animal and plant groups are already under threat from extinction, and around 1 million more species face extinction within decades.

In total, the extent and condition of natural ecosystems have declined on average by around 50 per cent relative to their earliest estimated states.

Since 1970, the population sizes of mammals, birds, fish, amphibians and reptiles have declined by an estimated average of 68 per cent.

Despite the increasingly urgent needs to reduce biodiversity loss, recent attempts to arrest the decline have been unsuccessful.”

One quarter of children less than 5 years of age are stunted in Pakistan, was a claim of a presenter.

The World Health Organization (WHO) suggests, “Stunting is the impaired growth and development that children experience from poor nutrition, repeated infection, and inadequate psychosocial stimulation.

Children are defined as stunted if their height-for-age is more than two standard deviations below the WHO Child Growth Standards median.

Stunting in early life – particularly in the first 1000 days from conception until the age of two – resulting in impaired growth has adverse functional consequences on the child.

Some of those consequences include poor cognition and educational performance, low adult wages, lost productivity and, when accompanied by excessive weight gain later in childhood, an increased risk of nutrition-related chronic diseases in adult life.”

World comparison for yield of different crops was a real disclosure for everyone in the hall. Wheat’s yield is less than 3 tons per hectare in Pakistan while it is 9 tons per hectare in New Zealand.

Rice is little more than 2 tons per hectare while in Australia it is around 10 tons per hectare.

Cotton is little less than 0.8 ton per hectare while in Australia it is almost 1.8 ton per hectare. We are far behind Peru in sugarcane and again New Zealand is far ahead in maize.

This suggests serious attention of our scientists, and growers to improve yield of our major crops to meet global trends to contribute even further to the economy of Pakistan.

Workshops such as this should be a regular feature of our society in every major city of Pakistan to deliberate on pressing issues of the Country and find solutions thereof.

Policy makers, academicians and other important stakeholders should find time out of their schedules to join such events to modify their interventions according to ground realities and global benchmarks for efficient utilization of resources and addressing challenges in an appropriate manner.

—The writer is Associate Professor Management Sciences, Head, Centre of Islamic Finance, COMSATS University (CUI) Lahore Campus.


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