|In recent years, we have suffered from the implementation of new policies and of a new development model based on land expansion and land expropriation, commonly known as land grabbing. Land grabbing is a global phenomenon led by local, national and transnational elites and investors, with the participation of governments and local authorities, in order to control the world’s most precious resources.
Land grabbing has resulted in the concentration of the ownership of land and natural resources in the hands of large-scale investors, plantation owners, logging, hydro-power and mining companies, tourism and real estate developers, port and infrastructures authorities. This has led to the eviction and displacement of the local populations – usually farmers, the violation of human rights and women rights, increased poverty, social fracture and environmental pollution.
Land grabbing is a global phenomenon based on the corporate domination of agriculture through control over land, water, seeds and other resources. It is justified by many governments and policy think tanks through claims that agribusiness will modernize backward agricultural practices and guarantee food security for all.
The key players behind land grabbing prioritize profit over people’s well-being: they produce agro-fuels if this is more profitable than food production, and they export their food production if this is more lucrative than selling it at home. In this race to profit, the corporate sector is increasing its control over food production systems, monopolizing resources, and dominating decision making processes.
Business lobbies have strong political influence that often overrides democratic institutions; in addition, they act with the complicity of local and national elites (traders, politicians and community leaders) who fail to protect their own people from predation.
Land grabbing is a new trend in Asia, Africa and Latin America in which large tracts of land are being bought or leased by overseas companies. Corporate sector is using this land to grow food, fiber and agro-fuels.
Pakistan has also announced a lucrative investment policy which is encouraging corporate sector to engage large tracts of land in all 4 provinces of Pakistan on very easy terms.
Pakistan’s new corporate agriculture farming is against food security. Free hand is given by the government to corporate agri-farming poses serious threat to the livelihood of peasants. It will give a golden opportunity to big land lords to avoid land reforms by making nexus with corporate sector by selling or leasing their lands and getting rid of tenant farmers.
It is a myth that corporate agri-farming is highly productive. Overall it proves costly due to high costs of farm inputs and also it degrades soil and agro-ecology by using genetically modified crops and expensive pesticides and fertilizers.
Sindh has the highest incidence of absolute landlessness, with 26 % or two million households not having any land, while 80% of tenants are landless. Majority of the rural people have agriculture as major source of livelihoods in Sindh. It employs 13.46 million people having 7.74 million as rural and 5.72 urban workforce. But for the majority, working arrangements in agriculture wage work, tenant farming, share cropping are either exploitative or yield little earnings. He said an open letter is being sent to political parties and other stakeholders to mobilize them to include land reforms top on their agenda.
New ways of economic exploitation is taking place in new world order. He said corporate farming does not bring prosperity to local population of farmers in our agriculture society.
Punjab and India are ahead in food production because of small farms, which are owned by farmers, as compared to large farms owned by absentee land lords. This shows that land reforms have proven successful and small farm are more successful that large ones in terms of per acre yield and supporting poor families for food dependence.
About two-fifth of the labour force in Pakistan is engaged in agriculture, which contributes to one-tenth of the GDP.
Land in Pakistan is not merely an economic commodity in Pakistan; it is also a source of social and political power. Agricultural land ownership in the country is highly concentrated and unequal. Around half of the rural households do not own any land, and the top 5 % own over a 1/3 of all cultivated area.
Rural women spend more hours in agriculture labour than men but they earn less income compared to men and face more hardships to own agricultural land.
Inequality of land ownership and landlessness is a major cause of poverty and backwardness in Pakistan. The large farms have approached the maximum yield per acre with the available technology. Further growth in agricultural output increasingly depends on raising the yield per acre of smaller farms. The small-farm sector, whose yield potential remains to be fully utilized, constitutes a substantial part of the agrarian economy.
In Pakistan small farms (less than 25 acres) constitute 88% of the total number of farms, and 57 % of total farm area. The 54 % of the total farm area in the small-farm sector is tenant-operated. Since tenants lose half of any increase in output to the landlord, they lack the incentive to invest in technology, which would raise yields. Because of their weak financial and social position they also lack the ability to make such investment.
Tenants’ ability to invest is further eroded by a nexus of social and economic dependence on the landlord, which deprives the tenant of much of his investable surplus. Thus the objective of raising yields in the small-farm sector is dependent on removal of the institutional constraints to growth arising out of the fact of tenancy.
Corporate farming policy of Government of Pakistan is against the economic and food security interests of the nation. Corporate farming will displace farm labors and small scale farmers, particularly women and further marginalize them from their livelihoods.
Land reform programme that gives land to the tiller is an essential step in providing the small farmer with both the incentive and the ability to raise his/her yields. Land reforms are required not only to accelerate agricultural growth, but to prevent the developing social crisis associated with the poverty and disempowerment of peasantry in Pakistan’s rural society.
Land reforms in Pakistan are an unfinished agenda. The country has experienced 3 attempts of land reforms in 1959, 1972 and 1977. Unfortunately in 1977, during the land reforms debate, a military dictator General Zia-ul-Haq toppled the civilian government and during Zia era a Shariat bench of Supreme Court of Pakistan upheld an appeal to declare land reforms against the law of Shariat.
Land reforms play an important role in agriculture production, poverty eradication and empowering the poor farmers. In Pakistan, the power of landed aristocracy has acted as a barrier to social and economic progress of the rural society. Genuine land reform can help solve the problems caused by the fact that farmers often use relatively inefficient capital-intensive techniques due to distorted market prices and that small farmers do not have access to the liberal credit subsidies on imported machinery and capital equipment.
It is about time that all political parties and stakeholders support new land and agrarian reforms in Pakistan.
- All major political parties must clearly express their commitment about a land reforms programme in Pakistan. All political parties should include an equitable, effective land and agrarian reforms in their election manifestos.
- A comprehensive land and agrarian reforms programme should be introduced in Pakistan with immediate effect which is based on pro-poor, pro-peasant, equity and gender justice principles.
- The verdict of Shariat Bench of Supreme Court, during Gen. Ziaul Haq’s rule which declared land reforms against Islamic principles, should be revoked with immediate effect.
- Landless women should be given priority in land re-distribution programmes and all discriminatory legal and cultural practices that prevent womenâ€™s right to own agricultural land and be recognized as a farmer should be declared illegal. Women should be recognized as Farmers not just as farm workers.
- Land ownership ceiling be fixed at 50 acres irrigated and 100 acres non-irrigated land per family. The necessary legislation should be introduced in favour of land reforms.
- The land recovered from large land owners should be redistributed among the peasant landless farmers, who have been working on that land with proper legal titles.
- The Existing tenancy acts should be reformed to allow workers to establish unions, demand fair wages and receive land titles supporting their legal rights to the land; while legal mechanisms should be put in place to adjudicate complaints and resolve conflicts.
- Bonded agriculture labour and keeping peasants in private jails should be declared a heinous crime which should be sentenced with maximum punishment to those who commit it.
- All laws and regulations regarding land developed under colonial era that is anti small farmer, should be abandoned and a judicial commission on land utilization should be formed to check exceeding commercialization of land.
- The landless farmer families should be allotted at least 10 acres of agricultural land and the land titles should be in the name of both husband and wife.
- The agriculture land occupied by or allotted to military farms and government departments should be revoked and redistributed among the local landless peasants.
- Corporate farming should not be promoted under the current policy framework. There must be a new legal framework which must ensure food security, abiding of labour laws and a ceiling limit over land. The land reserved for corporate farming should be distributed among landless farmers.
- Utilization of groundwater should be brought under a regulatory law to ensure equity and protection of underground water resources.
- Allotment of forest land to the influential persons has to be revoked and re-allotted to the peasants on the condition of re-forestation. The occupied surveyed or un-surveyed lands in the country must be re-surveyed and distributed among the landless peasants and agriculture workers families.
- Equitable distribution of the water at the tail-end is imperative. To avoid water logging and salinity, the canals, branches and watercourses should be lined. The government must draw up an agriculture policy with the consultation of agriculture scientists, peasants, agriculture workers and growers.
- The parliament should be persuaded to pass a legislation for protection of the peasantâ€™s rights, allowing them to have their trade unions, ensuring social justice and providing them the old age benefits to men and women farmers of Pakistan.
- The new Food Security and Research Ministry must focus on the land related issues as on of their priority area of work.