The Indus downstream, with what is reportedly the world’s biggest canal system, boost agriculture in parts of Pakistan, in the area where I spent my childhood. It’s a fertile land. The 1970s green revolution saw a sharp rise in crop production. Increased production and a rise in small industries from the 1980s, brought a big change and hope to the lives of millions. Apparently, the country was doing well on different fronts even under the iron rule of a dictator in the 1960s and 80s. But repeated military coups and inefficient and corrupt democratic rulers ushered the country into abyssal poverty. The total number of people below the poverty line rose from 19 million in 1960 to a staggering 42 million in 1995. Today the figure stands higher, at over 57 million.
Then came 9/11 (the attack on the twin towers in New York). It changed the course of history and fate of this country. Today food insecurity is a big problem, despite all our claims of being self-sufficient in basic food commodities. This is not the same situation I witnessed as a child some 20 years ago. I remember how a very big kutway (a mud pot for cooking food), cooked in our home, would cater for 20-30 workers, hired for various tasks. For snacks they would be provided with paratas (flat bread) prepared in butter with desi ghee (fats extracted from butter) and gur (non-centrifugal sugar obtained through traditional methods). For lunches they would be given meat and vegetables. As a child, I enjoyed those days eating a lot of butter and gur. Those days are gone. From childhood to my adulthood, I have seen people growing poorer and poorer. Poverty has its price. A life loses its meaning when everything revolves around pennies
Human nutrition attracted me when I first heard of it in our introductory course in the first year of our BSc (Hons) course. I liked what our teacher taught in class. I specialised in human nutrition. During my undergraduate course, I worked in a nutritional rehabilitation centre as a trainee, at Khyber teaching hospital in Peshawar. The nature and extent of malnourished cases we received almost each day was incredible. From that time, I realised that the only sustainable solution to the issue of malnutrition is emphasis on public health nutrition. I completed my MSc (Hons) in human nutrition with a distinction from the Agricultural University in Peshawar in 2004. The same year I got an offer of department to study social development and health in UK, and from the Flemish Inter-University Council to study food science and nutrition in Ghent, Belgium. I opted for Ghent, successfully completed my studies in 2005, and returned to my country.