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Tuesday, 15 September 2009

Country for sale?

Dawn Editorial
Monday, 14 Sep, 2009
Farmers harvest their wheat crop at a farm on the outskirts of Lahore. According to a recent study, Pakistan is at 'extreme risk' in terms of food security. -Photo by APP

AMERICAN drone attacks against the Taliban are routinely condemned as violations of national sovereignty. But there is little criticism of how our own government is threatening the country’s territorial integrity by engineering the lease of millions of acres to foreign investors. It seems that the democratically elected government, ostensibly a people-friendly administration, has wholeheartedly embraced the Musharraf regime’s corporate agriculture farming (CAF) policy. Arab conglomerates are to be leased vast tracts of land and will be allowed to repatriate all produce and profits, even in the case of a food deficit. This much has been confirmed by the federal minister for investment, and it is said that foreign-owned farms will also enjoy extended tax and rent holidays. All this has been decided without tabling the move in parliament. This is a gross injustice to the people of Pakistan and stands in clear violation of the UN General Assembly resolution on Permanent Sovereignty over Natural Resources.

No long-term benefits will accrue from such deals. True, the government will receive cash payments that will most likely fund the day-to-day profligacy of Pakistani officialdom. But that’s about it. Corporate farming, which is capital-intensive, will not generate significant employment and may well lead to an increase in rural poverty. Input levels will be high, yet no details have been provided of how the water and electricity needs of these huge farms are to be met. Will water be diverted from the irrigation network, compounding the misery of small-scale farmers who are finding it hard as it is to make ends meet? Will water flows be depleted further to cater to these corporate farms that will not contribute a single grain to our food stocks? Has any thought been given to how reduced river flows will speed up sea intrusion, which has already devastated vast swathes of the coastline? Perhaps these mega farms will rely on an army of tube wells, in which case the water table in places like Balochistan will be lowered even further, much to the detriment of local farmers.

According to a recent study, Pakistan is at 'extreme risk' in terms of food security. A combination of climate change, deforestation, poor water management and a burgeoning population has led to food scarcity and the problem will worsen in the coming years. Yields need to be raised through modern, water-efficient farming techniques and this is not possible without hefty government support. Also, access to credit must be made easier for farmers. This is the time to help local farmers and landless peasants, not wealthy foreigners and their food needs.

کارپوریٹ فارمنگ، مشرف دور کے قانون کا نتیجہ

گندم کا کھیت

زمینوں پر کام کرنے کے لیے مقامی افراد کو ترجیح دی جائے گی

سعودی حکومت اور پاکستان کے سرمایہ کاری بورڈ کے درمیان پاکستان میں زرعی زمین پٹے پر دینے کے لیے جو روابط ہوئے ہیں ان کی بنیاد سابق صدر پرویز مشرف کے دور میں بننے والا ایک قانون ہے جس کے تحت حکومت کسی بھی ملک، غیر ملکی فرد یا کمپنی کو ملک کے چاروں صوبوں میں لامحدود زرعی زمین آسان شرائط اور پرکشش مراعات پر زرعی استعمال کے لیے فروخت کرنے یا پٹے پردینے کی مجاز ہے۔

حکومت پاکستان کو یہ اختیار سنہ دو ہزار دو میں بننے والے کارپوریٹ فارمنگ ایکٹ کے ذریعے حاصل ہے جس کے تحت غیر ملکی سرمایہ کاروں کو راغب کرنے کے لیے ایک پالیسی بھی تیار کی گئی تھی تاہم اس پالیسی کے تحت ابھی تک کسی کو زرعی زمین الاٹ نہیں کی گئی ہے۔

سابق صدر پرویز مشرف کے جاری کردہ اس قانون کے تحت وزارت خوراک و زراعت نے سرمایہ کاری بورڈ کے ذریعے ملک کے چاروں صوبوں میں اکانوے لاکھ ہیکٹر قابل کاشت زمین کی نشاندہی کی ہے جو تاحال زیر کاشت نہیں لائی جا سکی ہے۔ اس میں سے اڑتالیس لاکھ ہیکٹرز بلوچستان کے قلات، کوئٹہ، نصیر آباد اور مکران ڈویژن میں واقع ہے۔ پنجاب میں یہ زمین ڈیرہ غازی خان، بہاولپور، راولپنڈی اور لاہور میں، صوبہ سندھ میں حیدرآباد، میرپورخاص، سکھر اور لاڑکانہ میں ہے جبکہ صوبہ سرحد کے جن اضلاع میں اس نوعیت کی سرکاری زمین کی نشاندہی کی گئی ہے ان میں ڈیرہ اسماعیل خان، ہزارہ اور کوہاٹ شامل ہیں۔

اگر حکومت بنجر زمین غیر ملکوں کو فروخت کرے پھر تو ٹھیک ہے لیکن قابل کاشت اراضی فروخت کرنے سے ملک میں خوراک کا بحران مستقبل میں مزید بڑھنے کے خدشات پیدا ہو سکتے ہیں

ڈاکٹر عابد سلہری

ان علاقوں میں موجود زمین کو زرعی مقاصد کے لیے ملکی و غیر ملکی کارپوریٹ اداروں اور ممالک کو فروخت کرنے یا نناوے برس کے پٹے پر دینے کے لیے مراعاتی پیکج بھی موجود ہے۔ اس پیکج کی خاص بات یہ ہے کہ اس پالیسی کے تحت فروخت کردہ زمین پر کاشتکاری یا فارمنگ کو صنعت کا درجہ حاصل ہو گا جس کے باعث نہ صرف اس سلسلے میں درآمد ہونے والی مشینری ڈیوٹی فری ہوگی بلکہ مختلف مدوں میں یہاں سرمایہ کاری کرنے والوں کو ٹیکس کی چھوٹ بھی دی جائے گی۔

زرعی فارمنگ میں سرمایہ کاری کرنے والوں کو مقامی پارٹنر ساتھ ملانے کی پابندی بھی نہیں ہو گی اور اس زمین کی پیداوار اور یہاں بننے والے مویشیوں کے فارمز کی مصنوعات وہ براہِ راست ملک سے باہر بھیجنے کے مجاز ہوں گے۔ سرمایہ کاری کی کم سے کم حد کا تعین بھی نہیں کیا گیا ہے اور اس زمین سے حاصل ہونے والے منافع کو بھی ملک سے باہر لیجانے پر کوئی پابندی نہیں ہوگی۔

اس کے علاوہ مقامی اور غیر ملکی بنکوں سے کاشتکاری کی مد میں قرض کے حصول کی سہولت بھی دستیاب ہوگی۔ پاکستان میں اس پالیسی کے تحت کاشتکاری میں سرمایہ کاری کرنے والوں پر مزدور قوانین کا اطلاق بھی نہیں ہوگا۔ زرعی زمین کو زیر کاشت لانے کے لیے ان سرمایہ کاروں کو پانی کا بندوبست خود کرنا ہو گا البتہ زیرزمین پانی نکالنے کے لیے استعمال ہونے والی مشینری کی درآمد پر حکومت ان سے کوئی ٹیکس نہیں لے گی۔

ان زمینوں پر کام کرنے کے لیے مقامی افراد کو ملازمت میں ترجیح دی جائے گی۔

اگر حکومت انہی مراعات کے ساتھ یہ اراضی پاکستانی کاشتکاروں کے حوالے کرے تو ملک سے چینی، آٹے اور دیگر اجناس کے بحران بھی ختم ہو جائیں گے اور ملکی معیشت بھی ترقی کرے گی

ابراہیم مغل

سرمایہ کاری بورڈ کے مطابق سعودی حکومت نے چند ماہ قبل اس پالیسی کے تحت پاکستان میں کاشتکاری کے لیے زمین حاصل کرنے میں دلچسپی ظاہر کی تھی لیکن ابھی تک اس درخواست پر عملی پیش رفت نہیں ہوئی ہے۔ ذرائع نے بتایا کہ ابھی تک سعودی حکومت کے لیے نہ تو زمین کا تعین ہوا ہے اور نہ ابھی یہ پتہ چلا ہے کہ سعودی سرمایہ کاروں کو کتنی زمین دی جائے گی۔

سعودی حکومت کو کارپوریٹ فارمنگ کے تحت زرعی اراضی فروخت کرنے سے متعلق خبریں شائع ہونے کے بعد ماہرین اور زراعت پیشہ افراد کی جانب سے اس بارے میں تحفظات کا اظہار کیا جا رہا ہے۔

زرعی معاشی ماہر ڈاکٹر عابد سلہری کا کہنا ہے کہ کارپوریٹ فارمنگ کا قانون اور اس کے تحت بننے والی پالیسی اتنی غیر واضح ہے کہ اس پر عمل کی صورت میں بہت سی پیچیدگیاں پیدا ہو سکتی ہیں۔ ’اگر حکومت بنجر زمین غیر ملکوں کو فروخت کرے پھر تو ٹھیک ہے لیکن قابل کاشت اراضی فروخت کرنے سے ملک میں خوراک کا بحران مستقبل میں مزید بڑھنے کے خدشات پیدا ہو سکتے ہیں‘۔

ایگری بزنس فورم کے سربراہ ابراہیم مغل کے مطابق زرعی زمین مراعات کے ساتھ غیر ملکی سرمایہ کاروں کو فروخت کرنا مقامی کاشتکاروں کے ساتھ زیادتی ہے۔ ’اگر حکومت انہی مراعات کے ساتھ یہ اراضی پاکستانی کاشتکاروں کے حوالے کرے تو ملک سے چینی، آٹے اور دیگر اجناس کے بحران بھی ختم ہو جائیں گے اور ملکی معیشت بھی ترقی کرے گی

The business of land

Thursday, September 17, 2009
Kamila Hyat

The writer is a freelance columnist and former newspaper editor

So far in 2009, according to the UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation, 50 million acres of farmland has been sold or negotiated for sale or lease. More deals are due to be finalised within months.

The trend is reported by analysts to be accelerating rapidly, with rich countries buying up arable land in poor nations to ensure their own food security. The food crisis of 2008, when unexpectedly large resources had to be used to acquire food, is a factor in triggering what some believe is the largest land grab since the colonial era. There are also apprehensions that it could have a similar impact, depriving impoverished people of control over their own resources and potentially expanding hunger in nations which themselves lack food security.

Sudan is one example of this. Despite being one of the least food secure nations in the world, it has sold or leased some of the largest tracts of land. Severe resource shortages are obviously a factor in this. South Korea has acquired 700,000 hectares in the country and five other countries have bought large holdings where they will grow food crops or raise livestock to ensure adequate supplies for their own people. The millions of hungry people in Sudan, Tanzania, Zambia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and even Ethiopia may find that, as a result of these deals which often involve land with the best water supplies or access to roads and ports, they may have even less food available to them than before. The people of Pakistan may face exactly the same situation.

Talk of an agreement to lease land to Gulf countries has been heard since 2007, when the idea was first floated as a means to raise revenue – even if it meant a depletion of the increasingly meagre cupboard of valuables Pakistan has left to sell. Protests voiced at the time seem to have led to the deal being put on the back burner, though low key talks apparently continued. The PPP government – eager to put the interests of the Saudis ahead of those of the people who voted it to power -- has moved ahead with the deal, with talks on in earnest with the Saudis to lease out 500,000 acres of land which with help the desert kingdom, heavily reliant on food imports, to secure food security for itself. The Saudis have already bought or leased land for similar purposes in Africa and have reportedly abandoned projects aimed at providing enough water to grow wheat and other crops at home, preferring the cheaper option of simply growing them elsewhere.

At the farmlands, to be acquired in all four provinces in Pakistan, special security forces would be deployed around the lands – which would be converted by high-tech agricultural inputs into waving seas of food – to 'protect' them and also to prevent local people from reaching the abundance in their midst. Presumably, these people, many of whom struggle to acquire a single meal a day, would watch helplessly as food grown on land which should, by right, feed them is whisked away. The verses of Iqbal about people rising up to burn land which does nothing to silence their pangs of hunger come to mind. Since the days of Iqbal, hunger has not abated. It may instead have expanded. In its most recent Global Hunger Index, the Washington-based International Food Policy Research Institute ranked Pakistan as a nation where levels of hunger were 'alarming'. Findings which confirm the hunger everywhere in our nation are, sadly, seldom seen as 'newsworthy' by the media.

It is not yet known if land which was already under cultivation will be handed over to the Saudis, though this is possible in a country which bears so heavy a burden of population and where there are so many landless farmers. Pakistan has already stated that it plans to lease still more land to Middle Eastern countries. The UAE and Qatar are both stated to be in the queue to acquire agricultural estates.

The land lease deal, supporters hold, would introduce modern farming technologies to Pakistan, increase investment thus offering the economy a badly needed boost and lead to an increase in employment as Pakistani staff is hired. It would also help cement ties between Islamabad and Riyadh, adding to the solid alliance between the two nations. Saudi Arabia has after all baled Pakistan out from difficult situations more than once. These arguments cannot be dismissed entirely. Indeed the fact that they do exist is one explanation as to why the new trend has taken off so swiftly across the globe, catching almost everyone by surprise. But the intensive agricultural practices that will take place on these lands will also deplete them, leaving behind a poorer soil. Rich nations can of course move on and simply buy 'new' lands elsewhere. Countries like Pakistan may be left with vast tracts of land infested with chemicals and with available water supplies reduced to them as the acquifer is sucked to supply the foreign farms. Will this, in time, mean more hunger? More starvation? More ecological and human devastation? These are the questions that must be asked and answered.

But these are not the only questions. The possession of lands owned by other governments and corporations within any country will have an inevitable impact on its sovereignty. If there is any doubt about this, the example of the US-based United Fruit Company in Latin America – involved since the 1800s in the ruthless exploitation of labour, the decimation of forests, bribery to safeguard it own interests and political interference at various levels – should illustrate how this works. Anger directed against the corporation simmers on; some hold it responsible for rampant corruption and instable governments. In the case of the Saudis, it is also worth keeping in mind that for all the expression of love and affection, relationships at the tier of the people have quite often been troubled. Hunting parties and other groups from the Middle East have in the past been accused by local people of arrogance, uncouth behaviour and harassment. They may be no truth behind such accusations, but they do suggest some of the problems that could arise in a situation where a large number of people from outside are brought into a particular area.

It is unfortunate that even as deals that involve land which should belong to the people of Pakistan are struck, there has been so little public debate about the plan. We need to be informed of what is planned. Protests need too to be mobilized. In the prevailing political environment of Pakistan, the people who stand to lose the most have almost no spokesmen. It is up to civil society groups to fill this gap. The global land sales and leases have caused disquiet at many forums. But so far they have not triggered an outcry on the scale that would have been expected – raising fears of a further tilting of the odds against the poor people of the world in the years to come.

Email: kamilahyat@hotmail.com (The News)

Corporate farming
By Ayesha Siddiqa
Friday, 18 Sep, 2009

The first story is about the government leasing state land in Cholistan (Punjab) and Balochistan to foreign contractors.  —File Photo
The first story is about the government leasing state land in Cholistan (Punjab) and Balochistan to foreign contractors. —File Photo
RECENTLY, a controversy has emerged regarding the government’s plan to lease or sell land to foreign clients in order to increase agricultural productivity and earn money. Both the federal and Punjab governments seem keen on the plan.

But what this entails and what the likely cost of such a move will be is worth assessing. In principle the idea seems fine. Conceptually, it would bring greater investment, especially development of agricultural infrastructure, create more jobs in the rural areas and contribute to the country’s economy. It would probably be better than begging before the ‘Friends of Pakistan’ or other donors. However, the extent of benefits that Pakistan will accrue from this proposal depends on the management of the concept.

The government plans to offer about 700,000 acres of land to potential investors probably from Saudi Arabia and the UAE. At the moment it is not clear what methodology will be used for the purpose. Will it just involve state land or include private land as well?

This is not the first time the idea of corporate farming has been floated in government circles. Reportedly, it was discussed during Pervez Musharraf’s time with the option of leasing land to the Chinese. Beijing had proposed that it be leased 2,000 acres of land for a period of 10 to 15 years with the agreement that China would make technological and financial investments in the land, invest in newer forms of seeds and other products and leave the new infrastructure to the state or the owners after the termination of the contract.

Further changes were recommended by people in the government, suggesting that the investors sign agreements with individual owners guaranteeing their continued ownership with the additional advantage of an annual share in the profits. This would be in addition to providing them with the existing level of income at the time.

While the negotiations with China fell through, the present government seems to have moved to other potential clients like Saudi Arabia and the UAE. There are different stories regarding the formulas being offered to foreign investors. The first story is about the government leasing state land in Cholistan (Punjab) and Balochistan to foreign contractors. Apparently, the Punjab agriculture minister confirmed that about 600,000 acres of land was offered in Cholistan, which was rejected due to brackish water in the region.

There are also stories of the government helping private companies from the two aforementioned countries acquire land from private owners to grow vegetables and other crops, which would be exported to their own countries. It was suggested that the government could provide some sort of tax holiday and have security units protect the leased/sold land.

Such suggestions raise questions. First, why would the government provide any financial concessions to these investors, especially if it plans to make money? It doesn’t make any sense, especially when they will take away the produce to their own countries. Second, why would the government need to have security contingents if there is no contestable claim over the land or if the entire arrangement is reached amicably? Or is it that land would be taken forcibly from at least some people, which would make both Islamabad and the contracting countries anxious about retaliation?

There is a basic problem with leasing or selling land to Middle Eastern or Gulf states – these countries already have stakes in Pakistan’s real estate. For instance, for years large tracts of land in Cholistan have been earmarked for different rulers from the Gulf, who use the land as hunting grounds and have built mansions in the area.

The story doesn’t end here. These rulers are said to have developed their own set of cronies in the host state and one wonders what influence they would exert with greater involvement in Pakistan’s real estate. The Gulf states and Saudi Arabia now seem to have the capability to remote-control events in Pakistan as we saw recently when King Abdullah comforted Pervez Musharraf and gave an audience to Nawaz Sharif.

Political economy also has to do with these linkages, particularly at the lower level. The capital and political influence brought in by these rulers creates local-level partnerships as well, many of which can be seen in south Punjab. In one case, for instance, a Musharraf-regime minister for state from the area partnered a main agent of the Abu Dhabi ruling elite to set up a sugar mill.

The relationships between the ruling elite of these states and their links in Pakistan are generally so secretive that it raises concerns about what would possibly come out of the deal. The deal itself could create a cartel in agriculture, which might only benefit the bigger or politically significant landowners.

With so much secrecy surrounding negotiations there is a possibility that smaller or mid-level farmers may not benefit. The politically influential landowners would not only get better arrangements but also become partners in the deal. This would also include the numerous military generals who have land in and around Cholistan. Not familiar with farming and probably not making a lot of money at the moment, these individuals would be only too happy with such an arrangement.

Equally happy would be bigger landowners of the area, who, in any case, capitalise on available resources and use contacts to maximise profits from their land. For instance, fruit export is a profitable venture, but its greatest beneficiaries are the bigger landowners who also seem to be pushing the idea of leasing land to foreign firms.

Currently, the problem is that the resources to develop agriculture are monopolised. Perhaps creating a system where most farmers have access to resources would benefit agriculture more than the formula under consideration. Leasing land in this fashion may just add to Pakistan’s reputation as a banana republic.

The writer is an independent strategic and political analyst.

ayesha.ibd@gmail.com (Dawn)

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