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Sunday July 21, 2024

Rapid urbanisation destroying ‘food basket’

By Mobarik A. Virk
May 30, 2023

Islamabad:There is a very strange and inexplicable phenomenon of mushroom growth of ‘Housing Societies’ one is witnessing, especially in province of the Punjab! Thousands and thousands of acres of rich, fertile agricultural land has already been taken over by these housing societies while more are coming up. And, that too at a time when ‘Food Security’ has become a serious issue for the country! A decade ago, travelling up and down on M-2 used to be a visual treat for the passengers, especially if travelling by bus because of enhanced visibility.

Soon after crossing the toll plaza (old one), a vast expanse of rugged terrain, sparsely dotted with indigenous, low-height trees of ‘Phulai’, ‘Kau’ and a couple of other varieties. Now we have been told that people in Chakwal are planting Olive trees which evidently has adapted to be local environments most suitably to grow and is financially beneficial as well.

The hilly tracts were all covered with thick foliage, dominated by ‘Sanatha’, ‘Granda’ and different types of grasses. As one continued to travel towards Lahore, the foliage got thicker and thicker and after 20 or 30 minutes of drive small fields of wheat started appearing on both sides. As one descends from Salt Range and crosses the bridge on Jhelum River the landscape start changing astonishingly. There were lush green fields, mostly wheat and fodder.

Another 15 to 20 minutes and the M-2 is flanked by sprawling citrus (Kino) orchards, a treat to watch when these trees are laden with fruit! While one is still soaking the sights of ‘citrus orchards’ the scene suddenly transforms as if a lush green velvety carpet has been thrown all over by nature.

And if one is lucky and there is a whiff of breeze blowing the paddy fields sway and nature gives one a chance to watch different shades of green! The land in Gujranwala and Muridkey districts is famous for producing the best quality of sweet-smelling ‘Basmati rice’ all over the world. But all that is no more!

So many housing societies and even industrial estates have emerged along the M-2. And for any nature-loving and those who are aware of the ‘food security situation’ Pakistan is facing this development is not only an eye sore but a very serious threat to country’s agricultural production capacity. Worst is that this phenomenon is not confined to M-2 alone. What we have learnt is that the situation along ‘Sialkot-Lahore’, ‘Pindi Bhatian-Faisalabad’ and ‘Faisalabad-Multan’ motorways is even worse.

Apparently, if not millions at least hundreds of thousands of acres of rich, fertile agricultural land has been infringed upon by these housing societies and industrial estates, especially along the Motorway network as well as the Grand Trunk (GT Road), causing a serious dent to the already shrinking ‘food-basket’ of country. One wonders if anybody in the ‘Food and Agriculture Ministry’ or the Federal Bureau of Statistics has conduct any survey to assess the impact of these housing societies and industrial estates on the country’s agricultural production.