Scientific progress should go hand in hand with moral progress

Monday, January 17, 2011

In his 1964 Nobel Lecture at Oslo, Norway, Martin Luther King Jr reminded us to not let our "moral progress" fall behind our progress in science and technology.

He said: Yet, in spite of these spectacular strides in science and technology, and still unlimited ones to come, something basic is missing. There is a sort of poverty of the spirit which stands in glaring contrast to our scientific and technological abundance. The richer we have become materially, the poorer we have become morally and spiritually. We have learned to fly the air like birds and swim the sea like fish, but we have not learned the simple art of living together as brothers. This is the serious predicament, the deep and haunting problem confronting modern man. If we are to survive today, our moral and spiritual "lag" must be eliminated. Enlarged material powers spell enlarged peril if there is not proportionate growth of the soul. When the "without" of man's nature subjugates the "within", dark storm clouds begin to form in the world.

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Malawi's maize green revolution but ...

Monday, January 03, 2011

Malawi is basking in an unprecedent maize green revolution. Even in normally lean months like January, maize which is the staple food is readily found in common markets at the unusually average price of 2000 Malawi Kwacha (about 12 US dollars) per 50 kg bag. Normally at this time of the year maize becomes relatively scarce and prices double.

This success is attributed to mainly two factors: the fertilizer subsidy programme championed by the Malawi government under the leadership of Prof. Bingu wa Mutharika and the promotion of irrigation under the Malawi Green Belt initiative which has seen Malawians harvesting maize twice (ie from the normal rain dependent farming season and irrigation based dry season harvest). As a Malawian, I am very proud that the days of hunger in the country are gone. God gave Malawians so many perennial rivers and we Malawians have realised that the rivers we have can be put to optimal use to combat hunger in the country, thanks to President Mutharika's vision of Malawi Green Belt Initiative.

Others have talked about the sustainability of the maize subsidies but for me my major concern is the nutrition value of maize. I am not a nutrition expert but based on my readings in literature, it is well documented that maize is lower in nutritive value than other foods like bananas, cowpeas (nandolo in Malawian vernacular), etc. Malawians traditionally believe that they have eaten when they have eaten a maize flour based food known as nsima. Unfortunately this food is just starch which just provides calories. It therefore my prayer that the government of Malawi to embark on maize nutrition fortification initiative to improve the nutrition status of our highly valued staple, maize. It should be a requirement that all the maize flour sold on the markets should be fortified with right amounts of minerals and vitamins. It is already being enforced that all salt sold on the market is fortified with iodine. So we can also adopt a similar approach to maize flour.

The following excerpt from the Food and Agricultural Organization website regarding maize diets caught my attention:

"In nutritive value maize is quite similar to other cereal grains. In fact, it is somewhat superior to wheat flour and only to a small extent below rice. These are the three cereal grains most consumed by people throughout the world. The problem with maize lies in the diet of which it is a component, a diet mostly deficient in the kind of supplementary foods necessary to upgrade the nutrients ingested in relatively large amounts of maize. Maize-consuming populations would be nutritionally better off if the maize consumed had the lysine and tryptophan genes of QPM or if it were consumed with a sufficient amount of protein foods such as legumes, milk, soybeans and amaranth seeds and leaves. This, however, will not occur in the near future, and therefore other measures should be taken. In this section, a number of possibilities, the results of studies to improve the nutritional quality of maize-based diets, are presented."

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