Dangers of large scale land grabbing loom due to corporate farming policy, expert

KARACHI: Country’s political and administrative system is dominated by the powerful feudal lords. Pakistan have rural areas where almost one third of population and majority of the poor live. The rural poverty continues to rise despite the fact that reducing rural poverty has been the key agenda of economic reforms in Pakistan.

“The powerful feudal lords, who dominate the country’s political and administrative system, have always been dodging past efforts of land reforms. Instead, the government during the Musharraf Regime approved policy of Corporate Agriculture Farming (CAF) which directly contradicts with the longstanding public demand of land reforms in the country. Due to CAF policy, the dangers of large scale land grabbing and eviction of small and landless farmers in looming over the heads of poor small and landless farmers,” this was stated at a workshop organized by National Peasants Coalition of Pakistan (NPCP) and Society for Conservation and Protection of Environment (SCOPE) organized in collaboration with Oxfam NOVIB Pakistan at a local hotel in Islamabad.

Speaking on the occasion, Tanveer Arif, Chief Executive Officer (CEO), SCOPE, said one key factor is the landlessness of massive rural population which serve as landless agricultural labour without proper legal cover, while the country’s political and administrative system is dominated by the powerful feudal lords.

“Land is important source of security against poverty, social status and political power in rural Pakistan. Land is one of the most important sources of earning sustainable livelihood and to enhance food security for poor people living in rural Pakistan,” he said.

He said that based on HIES 2001-02 data, approximately 10.36% of the rural population is landless; 32.67% owns under 1 hectare of land; 0.05% owns between 1 and 2 hectare of land; only 0.03% owns 2-3 hectares of land while only 0.02% owns 5 or more hectares of land. This means that a large majority of rural households do not own land at all or do not own enough for subsistence. Approximately 1% households own subsistence and above land holdings. “This implies that rural poverty is extremely high. In fact, almost 57% households are involved in non-agricultural work in order to survive. Given this situation, looking at women’s ownership, access and control over land is a critical area for investigation if any progress is to be achieved to ensure social protection,” SCOPE CEO said.

He said land distribution in Pakistan is highly unequal as 5% of large landholders possess 64% of the total farmland and 65% small farmers held 15% of land. About 67% households own no land. Landless are mostly engaged in informal activities that absorb a large majority of unskilled, uneducated or less educated poor individuals.

He said unequal distribution of land is extremely high in Pakistan. Almost 40% of the land is owned by only 2.5% households and 24% land owned by only 0.4 households. Situation of women land ownership is quite depressing. Women own less than 3% of the land, and that even when women do own land, they may not have actual control over it. It is worth mentioning that women’s share in agriculture activities is 70%.

He said the country’s political and administrative system is dominated by the powerful feudal lords. Most of Pakistan’s GDP and the bulk of its export earnings are derived primarily from the agricultural sector controlled by a few hundred feudal families. Armed with a monopoly of economic power, they easily pre-empted political power.

“Through the ’50s and the ’60s the feudal families retained control over national affairs through the bureaucracy. Later on in 1971, they assumed direct power and retained it until the military regained power. Pakistan’s major political parties are feudal-oriented, and more than two-thirds of the National Assembly (Lower House) is composed of this class. Besides, most of the key executive posts in the provinces are held by them. For instance, the main political parties such as Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz Group) and Pakistan Peoples’ party are almost wholly dominated by feudal lords such as the zamindars, sardars, nawabs, nawabzadas, rajas, chaudhries, pirs, etc,” Tanveer said.

“The landlord, by virtue of his ownership and control of such vast amounts of land and human resources, is powerful enough to influence the distribution of water, fertilizers, tractor permits and agricultural credit and, consequently exercises considerable influence over the revenue, police and judicial administration of the area. There no longer exists the agricultural feudals in most of the Northern Punjab, urban Sind and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. This situation only exists in rural Sind and some parts of Southern Punjab,” Tanveer concluded.

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