Karachi, January 23, 2013 (PPI-OT): Environment, agriculture and media experts at a workshop have called for making joint efforts to bring land reforms, ensure food security and halt onslaught of corporate farming in the country by taking all stakeholders on board.
“The government should change its outdated mindset and come forward with a positive and farmers-friendly approach to redistribute land among peasants and provide financial backup aid to them for growing crops so that they could get their livelihood peacefully,” the experts said while speaking at the capacity building workshop for media persons, land reforms, food security and poverty organized by the Society for Conservation and Protection of Environment (Scope) and the National Peasants Coalition of Pakistan (NPCP) in collaboration with the Oxfam Novib and the International Land Coalition at a local hotel on Monday and Tuesday.
“Agriculture is the mainstay of the Pakistan economy, accounting for 25% of GDP, 60% of export earnings and 48% of employment,” said Tanveer Arif, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) SCOPE in his presentation on land reforms.
He said that poverty and food security issues are closely linked to land and that was why the International Land Coalition was formed. “We are working on benefits and losses of corporate sector. Food and fuel prices are rising worldwide and they have become a global issue, causing agriculture crisis. Climate change is also affecting agriculture sector,” he observed.
He said that some 20.9 million hectares of land (26% of the country) is cultivated, of which 76% is irrigated by a vast network of canals, dams and barrages of Indus River System.
“Pakistan inherited feudal system from British Raja. Land distribution in Pakistan is highly unequal as 5% of large landholders possess 64% of total farm land and 65% small farmers hold 15% of land,” he informed.
“The large land holders have all political powers and economic advantages. He said that 50.8 % of rural households are landless while the poverty amongst rural landless people is high. He said that power of landowners is really a monopoly that has served as a barrier to social and economic progress for poor.
Land reforms are required not only to accelerate agriculture growth, but also to prevent the developing social crisis associated with the poverty and disempowerment of peasants in Pakistan’s rural society, Tanveer Arif asserted.
The SCOPE CEO said that the corporate farming was initiated in Pakistan during former President Pervez Musharraf’s government which was against the rights of farmers. Some Gulf countries have purchased lands in Pakistan, particularly in Sindh and Balochistan that would cause water scarcity and deprive local farming community of their rights. It will also cause food insecurity in rural areas, putting the livelihood of poor people at stake. Such kind of land purchasing is land grabbing, so there is dire need to accelerate efforts against such onslaughts.
He said that land reforms would empower the peasants and small farmers to ensure their access to farm finances and latest agriculture technologies. “Small farmers are efficient producers as the family food security is enhanced by land owners.
He informed: “The UAE has purchased 324,000 hectares of farmland in the Punjab and Sindh provinces of Pakistan in June 2008. Investors from Abu Dhabi bought about 16,000 hectares of farmland in Balochistan. Emirates Investment Group and Abraaj Capital are also investing directly in corporate farming. Such kind of purchasing is a land grabbing which will deprive local people of land and cause food insecurity”
Mahjabeen Khan Programme Manager SCOPE welcomed the guests for participating at the workshop. She said that media persons need to raise land reforms issue in strong case and hoped that this workshop would prove better for training of the journalists on land reforms, food security and other peasants’ issue.
NPCP Network Coordinator Waheed Jamali said that several organizations are working for brining agrarian reforms but work in this regard is still not effective, hence, there is dire need to work with concrete measures to raise land reforms issue at government level.
He said: “The media is our big stakeholder, but the coverage on land reforms has been low. Hence there is also need to expand coverage on land reforms, food security and other farmers’ issues. We will visit different areas of the country and invite media persons so as to guide them in highlighting peasants’ issues in real manner, he said.
Mehmood, a peasants leader, said that poor people had been compelled to compromise on education of their children, particularly girls due to food and other needs as they could not afford education expenses.
He said that poor people in the country spend 60% of their income on food needs while the rich class spend 2% of income. “The World Bank and other international organizations had been urging Pakistan to expedite efforts for food security but ironically it has turned deaf ear to it. Commenting on corporate farming, he said that all banks were bounded to give loan to corporate firms. He said that the food generated by corporate sector would be exported and there is no guarantee that local people could get some of it.
Mazhar Arif, a senior journalist and political analyst, said that rise in population was also causing food insecurity in Pakistan. He said that West Pakistan had 22 million population, but now Pakistan’s population had grown to 200 million with 10 percent rise. He said that population, food security and national resources are interlinked. “Land is being consumed rapidly, therefore, it is the need of hour to save it from corporate sector.”
Ahsanullah, a peasant leader from Mianwali, said that farmers community in Mianwali were facing serious livelihood issues. He said that crop growing expenses had risen alarmingly due to high fuel prices, use of turbines for water and other issues.
Taj Marri, a senior journalist from Sindh, said that they had finalized a draft of land reforms for welfare of peasants. He stressed the need to bring land reforms and ensure food security in the country. He said that people in cities were also facing food insecurity like rural areas.
Taj Marri said that it was the matter of great concern that lands were being even given to cricketers for hitting sixes, depriving local people of their soil rights. “PML-N government in the past had distributed lands among landless farmers, which are still uncultivated due to backup financial support. These lands need backup financial support to grow crops.
He said that the government needs to ensure food security, help farmers and halt corporate farming so that local people could pass their lives without trouble.
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