Opposition mounts to Pakistani farmland sale plan

September 15, 2009

Pakistan is pushing ahead with a plan to sell or lease agriculture land to foreign investors even as opposition grows at home.  A Saudi delegation is due in the country at the end of Ramadan this month for further talks on a plan to lease an area of land more than twice the size of Hong Kong, a Pakistani official told Reuters this month.

The Saudis are looking to boost their food security and Pakistan will presumably will reap monetary benefits in return. But what about Pakistan’s own food security in the longer term, All Things Pakistan asked in a recent post.

A stampede  for food in Karachi on Monday, although not related, underscored Pakistan’s own vulnerabilities and the plight of some of the nation’s desperately poor. Eighteen women and children died iin the stampede that erupted when a local businessman was handing out wheat flour among hundreds of poor women gathered in a narrow lane.

Those were the destitute, but giving away rich land to foreigners to cultivate and take the produce to their homeland will ultimately hit the ordinary Pakistani, the small farmer and those who indirectly depend on farming for their livelihood, critics are warning.

Robert Schubert in a piece for Food and Water Watch says it has been recognised in other parts of the world that such a “land grab”  harms local communities by dislodging smallholder farmers, aggravating rural poverty and food insecurity. Many of the land purchases comprise tens of thousands of acres which are then turned into single-crop farms – and these dwarf the small-scale farms common in the developing world, where nearly nine out of 10 farms (85 per cent) are less than five acres.

Giving away land carries an unhappy connotation across South Asia, perhaps more than in other parts of the world. And in Pakistan’s case, at this difficult point in its history, it raises even more painful questions.

To many it is yet another assault on the nation’s sovereignty. “With the US increasingly occupying Pakistan with their covert and overt armed presence, and the Gulf states taking over our rich agricultural lands, our rulers are voluntarily making us a colony again – as we were under the British who used our men to fight their wars and our cheap labour to ship the finished produce back to Britain! Have we come full circle after 62 years of our creation?” said defence expert Shireen M. Mazari. 

The Dawn wrote in an editorial headlined “Country for Sale” that the government stood in violation of a UN General Assembly resolution on Permanent Sovereignty over Natural Resources. It said the government had moved ahead with the plan without running it past parliament and it would do grievous damage to farmers.  And it quoted a recent study which identified Pakistan as one of the countries at “extreme risk” in terms of food security. “This is the time to help local farmers and landless peasants, not wealthy foreigners and their food needs,” it said.

And all this is being played out against the backdrop of the militancy raging across the country. Public discontent works to the militants advantage and they could use this to bolster support, as discussed in an earlier post on the same issue.

Or it could lead to fresh upheaval. Business Monitor Intelligence said such deals had fallen apart in other parts of the world because of local resistance. It cites the case of Madagascar where a plan to lease a huge tract of agriculture land to a Korean company likely contributed to the downfall of the president in March.

{Photographs of farmers in Multan and in Swabi in the northwest]

21 comments

We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see http://blogs.reuters.com/fulldisclosure/2010/09/27/toward-a-more-thoughtful-conversation-on-stories/

Pakistanis politicians will get a better price on Ebay!

Some British or westerner, whoever buys will at least respect the humans in Pakistan. Saudis don’t have any human values! Why sell so cheap without a proper bidding?

Posted by Soman | Report as abusive

I think payment to Chinese is due for the next shipment of arms, weapons, fighter planes and frigates.

How else will Pakistan finance Chinese arms?

Posted by Ramin | Report as abusive

Equally alarming is the Chinese Investment is Steel and hydro electric resources.

Chinese will invest, built, own and operate these plants and dams.

In other words, Chinese will control Pakistan’s water resources and mines. This doesn’t look good either!

But what are Pakistan’s choices?

Posted by Sameer | Report as abusive

Pakistan can help itself if it gives up terrorism and terrorist support infrastructures and make friendship with India.

India is investing billions in Nepal, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. And India won’t hesitate to lend billions to Pakistan till they become stable. India had helped Pakistan in the past during Kashmir earthquake with food, medicine and helicopters. India won’t ask for land or mines in return for aid.

But is Pakistan willing to give up terrorism?

Posted by Soman | Report as abusive

Either the Chinese are asking more money for weapons

or Zardari needs his commissions as there are no other investments!

On a recent trip to China, Zardari signed a 2.2 billion dollar steel plant! Everything is secret about this steel plant! One clause of this agreement is to keep the agreement secret. The only beneficiaries of this plant are Chinese, Zardari and his jail buddies!
http://forum.pakistanidefence.com/lofive rsion/index.php/t84157.html

Seems like time is running short! All Pakistani politicians want to make a quick buck and run! Leave the country to Chinese, Saudis and drones!

Posted by Soman | Report as abusive

It’s quite shameful & pathetic, the way these corrupt-to-the-core Pakistani leaders are selling that country & the future of it’s people in bits & pieces for personal gain. While morally bankrupt people like Mr. 10%, Pak Generals & the elite are busy wheeling & dealing with the likes of China & Saudi, a majority of Pakistan can’t afford 2 meals in the same day. Why are Pakistanis not talking about sovereignty now? Why aren’t they protesting on the streets?

Posted by Mortal | Report as abusive

“Saudi will also hire a new security force of 100,000 men to be split among the country’s five provinces to secure the investment environment”

Any Pakistan who comes to steal food from the Saudi occupied land will be killed by the new Saudi security force.
http://www.reuters.com/article/latestCri sis/idUSLK407240

Is it Pakistan investment plan or Pakistan liquidation plan?

Posted by Javed | Report as abusive

So much concerned are our friends next door, dont wory about us. Thats why we have have many layer of power houses to keep each other in check!

Thanks for your concern, any sugestions how this change should come about? Beside the useual give up terrorism n so on when over 3000 Pakistani soldiers have been killed fighting the taliban?

Posted by Sajid | Report as abusive

NATO jets bomb Pakistan

NATO warplanes bombed the South Waziristan tribal region on Tuesday, a Pakistani daily, the Nation reported.

http://www.presstv.ir/detail.aspx?id=106 245&sectionid=351020401

Posted by Javed | Report as abusive

The intending foriegn investors must keep in view that for this kind of International contracts there must be an approval duly processed by the Parliament of Pakistan. No unauthorised single person, whoever he might think he is or people might know him as, has NO authority to flogg Pakistani land or its rights to ANYONE whosoever. By the way, Pakistani people have had enough trouble caused by these Wahabis and surely we cannot afford having them enjoying the benefits of out PAK land.

Its very shameful for a country to sell huge farmlands to other countries while there own people are getting killed in stampedes for free food.

Only thing Pakistan grows beside terrorists is food, and they are giving farmlands to Saudis, what the big idea behind it ??

Posted by singh | Report as abusive

Most of the farm land in Pakistan is held by feudal landowners who use sharecroppers to till the land.

As a result of Pakistan’s feudal landowning system, not only are the landholdings in Pakistan much larger than almost all of its neighbors (avg farm is Pakistan is about 10 acres vs only 4.5 acres in India), but the productivity and crop yield have been neglected by absentee feudals who are more interested in politics and ruling the nation in the name of democracy.

Pakistan is already the most urbanized nation in South Asia, and as the urbanization process accelerates, the farming techniques and productivity needs to go up significantly to feed the growing population with fewer farmers. Foreign investors are likely to bring modernization to Pakistani farms, as long as the leases are written up to ensure much higher farm productivity and the first right of refusal to the harvest by Pakistan.

A carefully crafted lease arrangement with foreign investors can accomplish the following:

1. Move Pakistan from the traditional feudal society to an industrial society with modern agribusiness capable of feeding its population and exporting surplus.

2.Increase productivity and improve Pakistan’s food security.

3. Increase Pakistan’s economic prosperity and decrease dependence on food imports.

According to FAO data reported by Pakissan.com, among spring wheat growing countries Egypt has the highest yield, producing 5422 kg. of grain per hectare and Indian Punjab produces 4090 kg versus 2500 Kg per hectare in Pakistan.

So higher investment and proper techniques can double the per hectare wheat yield in Pakistan, feeding Pakistanis well and enough to satisfy Saudi needs.

As a counterpoint, I don’t think it’s a bad idea. How allocating land for private farming is different than creating special economic zones (SEZ’s) witnessed in China or India? The govt of Pakistan can lease, not sell, the agricultural land to calm the political opponents. Saudi farming, in my view, in Pakistan ‘may work’ for some reasons as follows,

1) In the absence of genuine land reforms in Pakistan, small farmers are in a minority; which means less subsistence farming as witnessed in India. It also means fewer hassles to buy large tracts of land. Corporations prefer access to large tracts of farm land which can be contracted or bought from few rich landlords.

2) I doubt landlords in Pakistan, many of whom are feudal, are keen in improving productivity of their farm land. Or, they’re benevolent enough to care for their farm workers. Private farming may help address productivity and worker-rights if special clauses are added in the contract of corporations.

3) Pakistan has deep balance of payment troubles for decades now. It looks that Pakistan is trying to revive its argi-business in return for some Saudi cash which will go in to government coffers. It may help them to get rid of the life-support of foreign aid.
4) Pakistan is privatizing its agriculture with the Arabs; not the Americans or the British. In case of backlash, the government of Pakistan, like the ones before it, can seek refuge in guise of Islamic brotherhood. It’s easy to convince the poor that one Islamic country, Saudi Arabia, cannot dupe another Islamic republic, Pakistan.

There are always risks in privatization of farmland; most of them are usually political. But, I don’t think Pakistan has many good choices in foreseeable future.

Posted by Nikhil | Report as abusive

Pakistan largely is a feudal state, where most of the agricultural land is owned by a handful of people. Most rural people are either tenant farmers or farm workers. The landowners have great influence over the peasents. This feudalism will only end by FDI(Foreign Direct Investment) in real-estate and agriculture sector.

True reforms must come and displace the entrenched ruling-elite structure to progressively displace it. The government should disempower the zamindar elite of feudal-land holders who arrogantly resist new ideas. This will make the wealth distribution more equal. The economic oppression will end if oil ricj Gulf nations invest and lease land, modern farming methods are employed, water sources are diversified. There will be job creation and workforce will be trained.

Similarly opening the door to China for exploration of minerals, oil and gas and coal in Baluchistan, developing Gwadar port and utilizing it to create trade routes and capitalizing on the proximity of Pakistan with Iran and CIS states(Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan etc) will create new opportunities in energy sector.

All in all not a bad idea, there are always critics and supporters of such ideas. That is why the parliament is there, the government should openly debate the issue.

Posted by Umair | Report as abusive

“All in all not a bad idea, there are always critics and supporters of such ideas. That is why the parliament is there, the government should openly debate the issue.”

–>Umair is sounding more and more these days like a democratic secular and plural type of man. Have you changed your point of view and realized the error of your ways?

Posted by Global Watcher | Report as abusive

The train is leaving the station. What should be done, if the leasing of Pakistan’s fertile farm land to foreigners is fait accompli? Can we stop it? I doubt it. So what’s the next best thing?

What I am proposing on my blog is as follows: “Pakistan faces potentially severe food and water shortages in satisfying the needs of its growing population. Significant investments are urgently required to avert potential famines and droughts. The best course of action now is to try and pressurize Pakistan’s leadership and negotiating team to proceed cautiously and craft the best possible terms for a few pilot deals they can to ensure Pakistanis’ food security and looking after Pakistan’s best long term interests, while offering reasonably attractive returns to investors.”

Read more at: http://www.riazhaq.com/2009/09/pakistans -farmland-controversey.html

India should tie up with the Saudi companies which are buying large tracts of land in Pakistan for private farming. Needless to say, India knows more about agri-business in South Asia than the Saudis. India can use such alliances to reserve share of crops for feeding its citizens in the future.

Posted by Nikhil | Report as abusive

When the govern ment officials, public institutions and state-owned assets are all for sale, what’s six million acres of farm land between friends? Is this a wise move? Find out…
http://www.tkfr.com/?p=109

anybody who wants to buy or lease land in pakistan should take pakistani farmers to their country.make them citizens of that country, give them 100 acre land per person. I am sure pakistani farmers will change a desert in to a productive farm land.Because they are hard working and smart people.I think Soudis know it can be done with new farming methods.But they prefer to use pakistani land and labour. So that they don’t have to allow foreigners into their Holy Land .Great Muslim brothers.

Posted by optimistby | Report as abusive