The Nation’s front-page story last Saturday was reassuring in more ways than one. This is how its intro went: The Punjab government is all set to sell irrigation water to a big fertilizer group in Rahim Yar Khan, an area facing severe shortage of water. It went on to report that the Punjab Chief Minister had approved a summary to that effect forwarded to him by the Irrigation Department. Of course, there’s nothing reassuring about depriving farmers of water to feed a fertilizer company’s profits. Besides, such government transactions favoring private businesses at the cost of public welfare are common these days. What was reassuring to me was the fact that the issue had started to receive the attention that it truly deserves.

In a media discourse cloaked in suave suits of neo-liberal values and shrieking into existence chaotic components of a narrative being manufactured by the empire as we speak, it was reassuring to hear a voice with its ear to the ground. It was reassuring because the report sounded the farmers’ concerns at a time when no one seems to care about those who till this land—as if our well-being did not depend on them. Surely, it would be naïve to think that the big-money agri-industry, which seems to have declared an all-out war against the farmers and their time-tested farming practices, is a substitute, let alone a good one.

Like other big-money phantoms, the agri-industry comes dressed in robes of abundance for everyone. Beneath these deceptive robes lies the naked lust for private profit. Its mass-produced world of pesticides and herbicides, chemical fertilizers and genetically modified seeds, mega-machines and corporate farms, complete with its billion-dollar profits, is built on the skulls of impoverished farmers. This mass-produced world thrives on dead birds, dying soil and diminishing diversity. Still, we are supposed to swallow its poisonous pill because it comes sugar-coated with the promise of bigger yields and feeding the poor.

Like sugar-coated pills of other big-money phantoms, this pill too is hard to swallow. For instance, the big daddy of big-money phantoms, the IMF, keeps promising that one day it will all trickle down. It somehow never does. But such is the power of big-money that its contradictions are never challenged and everyone merrily goes along singing in synch; governments of poor countries like ours, economists, the media. So, even as the yields dwindle and the poor multiply, even as diseases spread and fertile earth dies, we must sing the song of the agri-industry and all the modernization it comes with. We must not question the misleading myths it stands upon.

At a time when the world is waking up to the dangers of the agri-industry and its innovations and turning to traditional farming practices, our federal and provincial governments seem committed to take us in the opposite direction. Those in charge of our destiny would like to ignore the wealth of agricultural knowledge and resources invested in our farmers and pamper the agri-industry at their expense. Government policies in the past encouraged mechanized farming, chemical fertilizers and pesticides, and these days GMO seeds are being facilitated in the country. The mantra of attracting investment has been added to the ‘green-revolution’ slogans hailing better yields and prosperity for all.

Our governments seem determined to bury the farmer alive under the debris of their suicidal policies wrapped in rosy rhetoric; a marathon love song to the heavily discredited agri-industry that they think is a synonym for agriculture. Our policymakers are blind to the disaster across the border in India where more than 250,000 farmers have been driven to suicide in the last ten years of agri-industry’s expansion. They are blind to what the agri-industry does to the environment and to the health of not only the farmers but also the end-consumers. Obviously, the mass murder of life, the herbs and insects labeled as weeds and pests, the dying birds and bees, the poisoned earth and water table, don’t figure anywhere on the radar of our policy makers.

This is even more disturbing considering that the world is coming round to accepting that the best way to farm is how our farmers have been doing it, not for centuries but millennia. The most highly valued food on supermarket shelves in developed countries that our policy-makers view as role models are organic, free of chemical fertilizers and pesticides. GMO is a suspect word that the agri-industry lobbies hard to keep off the labels of food products. Despite the big-money that goes into keeping the gory secrets of agri-industry, one scientific study after another is exposing its threats to land and water, animal and plants, and human health. The role of food cartels and monopoly of agri-industry in spreading poverty and famine is being questioned and resisted.

The farmers of Pakistan are the custodians of agricultural knowledge and practices that are now being recommended the world over by every scientist not on the payroll of the agri-industry. It doesn’t make sense to degrade their wealth of knowledge and practices, which could produce the most valuable food items in the world, and to herd them onto the blundering bandwagon of the agri-industry, and eventually to its slavery. It would be foolish not to build upon the strength of our traditional farming still practiced by many farming communities and reintroducing it in areas polluted by the agri-industry and its life-threatening interventions; farming that enriches the soil instead of leading it to a slow death, farming that is self-sustaining instead of being totally dependent on some companies for every input, farming that respects life and adds to its diversity instead of killing it, farming that is based on the needs of those who till the land rather than the needs of a market designed to profit big-money phantoms.

By luring and forcing the farmers to a life of slavery within the agri-industry, those in charge of our destiny are not only disrespecting their worth but also stifling the only hope of self-reliance that we still have.

    The writer is a freelance columnist.