Land & Agriculture
Our Land Program:
In this section we address, agriculture land, food security, urban land, land mafias and housing as they are all interrelated.
- To treat land as a strategic asset to be used for the benefit of people rather than a means to make profit for a few
- To end economic Oppression
- To end social oppression
- To ensure food security
- To generate revenue for the state to be used for public benefit
- To end land mafias
- To solve the housing problem for the low income families
- Address the gender gap in land ownership
Land is the most important strategic assets of a nation. There have been conflicts and wars between nations, countries, tribes and even within families throughout history, even for small pieces of land. And the richer the land in natural resources or otherwise more valuable, the fiercer the struggle to control it. This is the only asset which cannot grow in size. Land is not a dead thing. It is the source of life on this planet. Water, food, plants, minerals, energy sources, precious metals and stones and building material all originate from land. It is also needed to build places of living, worship, community gatherings, sports, build industry and the infra structure. It not only caters to human needs but to the needs of all living beings. Thus if a few people, a few countries or a few corporations gain control over most of the land, they then acquire the power to control people who live on that land through various means.
This concept is very clearly understood by the rich and elite of the country and the world. As a result we see wars at international level to control oil rich lands, attempts at regime change or forced trade agreements for the use of land to control the natural resources. This is the essence of neocolonialism. At home front we see land mafias with never ending greed to control large tracts of land, whether urban, rural or agriculture. This is a new way of subjugating fellow citizens and in essence is the same as the old “jagirdari system.” According to some reports, over 70% of elected officials in the parliament are large land owners.
The conversation about land reforms in Pakistan has been limited to agricultural land. But for the past few decades we have seen rise of land mafias in urban setting. This has raised the cost of land ownership out of reach of middle class and pushed the poor out into the periphery or into undocumented residential areas (katchi abadis). So, we believe that land should be looked at and dealt with in all these dimensions.
Agricultural land—-Historical Overview
Agricultural land ownership in Pakistan is a remnant of what was put in place by Mughal rulers, then modified by the colonial rulers according to their interests and later amended by various governments after independence. It was colonial rulers who devised the most oppressive system by endowing large estates to those who pledged allegiance to the crown and treated their own people worse than animals in order to please their masters. Their authority did not end at collecting taxes and revenues but extended to be the unchallenged rulers who had control of all aspects of the lives of their subjects. This resulted in their dominance over people, not only in economic domain but also in social, legal and moral domains. That mind set and behaviour continues even today.
There have been efforts in Pakistan for land reforms. But they were neither adequate, nor implemented in their full spirit. Last straw in that was the decision by Supreme Court in 1972 that these reforms were against Islamic injunctions and thus major clauses were revered leaving the country in the same position as in 1947.
Current State of poverty in Pakistan
Even though the jagirdari system does not exist in that shape now but the legacy left by the colonial system has not ended. Even though on decline, large land holders still exist who exert economic control resulting in political clout and social submission of people working under them. Sharecroppers, haris, muzeras are almost interchangeable terms used for those who work on the lands of these land lords. They are traditionally given small tracts of land by the land owner, where they cultivate crops. At the end of season, they hand over a large portion of their produce to the land owner who has not contributed anything in this effort. The leftover profit, after paying the land owner, is barely enough for these poor workers to live on so they end up borrowing money from the land owner for emergencies like medical catastrophes, marriage and deaths, which they are never able to pay back. This makes them and their future generations literally slaves to the land owner.
With recent trend of corporatization of agriculture, the agriculture workers have acquired the status of wage laborer. They are paid minimum wage or less and the corporation is not responsible for anything else. They are not slaves in the literal sense as in the case of sharecroppers/haris but in some ways are worse off than them.
Agriculture is the basis upon which human civilizations have been built. It is the most important ingredient for human survival and will maintain in that position in foreseeable future. Production and distribution of food is an important part of our strategy.
According to the Agriculture Census Report 2010 agriculture contributes 21% to national economy and provides employment to almost half of country’s labor force. About 64% of population lives in rural areas and earns its livelihood directly or indirectly from agriculture activities. Agriculture sector productivity is critical to counter food insecurity. Development of agriculture sector has a major impact on the development of Pakistan but there does not seem to be a coherent approach by successive governments for this sector.
According to the report distribution of farm land is like this: Total number of farms are 8.26 million and total area is about 53 million acres. Out of this only 4% large farms take up about 18 million acres or 35% of total land. While 64% small farms take up only about 10 million acres or 19% of total land. This shows the inequality of land ownership which affects the economic, social and political life in the country. Small land owners are disadvantaged in many ways. One of them is that large land owners are able to grow cash crops which brings in more money and are beneficiaries of most of the government policies.
This is no secret that Pakistan’s rural poverty numbers are much worse than urban ones. Other than agriculture related income, salaried jobs are important source of income for the poor. For that, it is critical that education and skill level of rural poor is enhanced and alternate means to earn a living are provided. Successive governments have not paid any attention to this problem.
While the World Bank Organization, United Nations Foundation and other such institutions realize the impact of poverty on human life and society, they don’t offer a solid plan to eliminate poverty other than “trickle down” economy, promoting some low skilled jobs, offering microcredit so people can barely make it or offer some social benefits to the poor and other such superficial measures. Poverty is a complex phenomenon but the single most underlying cause of poverty is uneven distribution of wealth. This has been realized and admitted by leading economists of the day. The uneven distribution of wealth starts when we accept the fact that a few have the right to control natural and manmade resources. This gives upper hand to them and their future generations and makes it harder if not impossible for the rest to compete with them.
Most of economists and social scientists agree that inequality of wealth distribution is the primary cause for this. However, most of them believe that the solution is redistribution of wealth like increasing taxes on the rich and using them to provide social services and other benefits to the poor. We have major ideological disagreement with this solution. By promoting this solution, we are maintaining the inequality, promoting welfare culture and keeping the poor still dependant upon the rich. We have also seen that this solution is difficult to implement because those who control wealth also control policy making and thus are always resisting and finding excuses to avoid this. And even if policies are made, they are difficult to implement and there are enough loop holes left in the system where tax evasion becomes possible and is difficult to challenge even in the court. This has been proven in the recent example of Panama Leaks and the fact that up till now no one has been convicted of corruption and tax evasion in Pakistan. And even if they are forced to implement these policies due to grassroots pressure, they are always looking for an opportunity to withdraw them. We have seen this recently happening worldwide under the name of austerity measures or Structural Adjustment Programs imposed by the international financial institutions and consists of withdrawal of social benefits, privatization of state institutions as well as many life necessities like education, healthcare, transport and even water.
There are other causes which are again related to uneven distribution of wealth like unemployment, poor governance, lack of education and skills etc.
Thus, in order to address poverty, we need to make some structural changes in the economic system and distribution of wealth generating resources like lands, industry, financial institutions and in spending patterns and setting up our national priorities.
We propose the following measures to counter the poverty and move towards a more egalitarian society. Other economic issues will be dealt with in the economy section.
In urban setting land is being used for speculative profit making as well as to whiten the black money. This has given rise to powerful land mafias which use all kinds of methods including murders and instigating riots in order to gain control of prime land. These mafias are protected by powerful people, parties and even institutions. There are reports of expensive land being allotted to the influential people at throw away prices.
Speculation on land prices not only has raised the price of land to where it has become inaccessible to average middle class family but also has effectively pushed the poor to live in overcrowded and undesirable areas where there are no public facilities and infrastructure.
Another aspect of this issue is the use of fertile agricultural land for housing societies. village after village is being sold to these societies or institutions. At times the residents of the village who refuse to sell their land are being threatened and persecuted. This has an added dimension of increasing food insecurity to those already malnourished and hungry.
Because these land mafias are being run with collaboration of politicians, criminals, property dealers and corrupt government officials, there is no hope of them eliminated without a strong grassroots party.
Housing for the poor has always been a problem but now even middle class is hard pressed to own a house. The following information is taken from an article by Tasneem Siddiqui, chairman Saiban – Action Research for Shelter, published in Dawn in April 2017, “Few would disagree that under the present dispensation, the poor have little hope for a brighter future. Our planners, economists and policymakers admit the existence of a huge backlog in low-cost housing, the demand for which grows incrementally by approximately 400,000 units every year. Notwithstanding the usual rhetoric and political sloganeering, serious and concerted efforts to address the issue are non-existent. Is it not surprising that in a country of 200 million, there is no long-term housing program? During the last two decades, not a single major government housing scheme has been launched in any major city of this country. Taking Karachi as an example, after the Malir Housing Scheme (which itself remains undeveloped and unoccupied) no scheme has been launched. At the government level, social housing and accessibility to affordable land for the urban poor are topics that are treated with apathy instead of enthusiasm.”
On the other hand, residential schemes like Defense Housing Societies and Bahria Town for the rich and upper middle class keep sprouting all over major cities, while the poor have to depend on informal sector. According to the above source, “In Karachi alone, around 55 per cent of the population lives in these abadis, over 500 of which have been regularized. If you look at the numbers, the informal sector has supplied more plots than Karachi Development Authority, Malir Development Authority and Lyari Development Authority put together.”
There is also large unmet need of lower middle class with income level of Rs. 35,000 to 40,000 which make up of about 40 per cent urban dwellers in Karachi. These people would be willing to pay for a small house in easy monthly instalments but there are no such schemes for them, either by the government or by private developers.
It is not just the availability but the disparity in quality of dwellings and surrounding infrastructure is striking. Whereas in upper class a family of 3-4 lives in a house built on 500 sq. yard land with wide roads, modern sanitation and water supply as we’ll as educational and health facilities, in some other areas of the same city 3 generations live in 80 sq. yard plot surrounded by crumbling infrastructure and nonexistent social services.
Gender dimension of land ownership
The ownership of land has a very important gender dimension. Even though women have the legal right to own land as the article 23 of the Constitution states that every citizen shall have the right to acquire, hold and dispose of property in any part of Pakistan, in practice it is not implemented.
Women are excluded from land ownership on various pretexts adding to their poverty and absence of social and political clout. Even though law does not discriminate against them from land ownership, centuries old customs do. SDPI conducted a study on women and land ownership and made the following recommendations:
- introducing joint titling systems that give women equal ownership alongside their husbands, thereby improving their position both within the home and in society;
- making legal services available to help women make land claims;
- revising marriage laws to allow divorced women control over land; and
- providing credit and agricultural inputs
What is food insecurity?
Food insecurity means that a person is unable to obtain sufficient healthy food on a day to day basis resulting in not only in chronic hunger and malnutrition but also is more susceptible to disease. In addition it affects her/his productivity. In children it causes stunting and risks their mental and physical development.
Even though Pakistan has made progress in becoming food surplus country and its wheat production has increased, still 63 percent of population, nationally cannot meet its nutritious diet requirements. The situation is much worse in Baluchistan where this number is 80 percent. KPK and Sindh stand it 67 per cent and Punjab at 60 per cent. Almost half the children in Pakistan suffer from malnutrition and stunting. This permanently affects their long-term growth and ability to reach their full potential.
The single most important cause of this is limited economic access to food due to poverty. Other contributing factors are poor physical access to nutritious foods, rapid population growth, especially in urban areas; poverty; security issues and vulnerability to natural and man-made shocks.
Class dimension of food insecurity
One thing that no one is willing to point out is that the poor nutrition along with poor education and poor health is a major cause of sustaining and strengthening the class system where rich become richer and poor stay poor through generations. How can stunted hungry children who grow up with lack of quality education, poor health from poor households compete with well fed, well groomed, well-educated and healthy children of the rich in jobs, businesses and other opportunities? And poor education, poor health and poor nutrition are manifestations of poverty.
There has been a lot of research on this issue as this is a global problem. And most researchers agree that food security cannot be ensured only by increasing availability of food through higher agriculture production. It requires better access to food which in essence means to solve the poverty problem. However, no one is willing to address that because the problem of poverty cannot be solved under the current economic system and those who are beneficiaries of the system will not allow any change in it.
We believe food is a human right. Food production should be to take care of human needs and not for profit. And it is state’s responsibility to ensure a supply of nutritious food to all citizens.
We believe that none of Pakistan’s problems can be solved through a piecemeal approach. There has to be a holistic solution. And since most of the problems are connected with the economics, all our programs go back to focusing on economic system change. Land in Pakistan is not only a source of wealth but also of social clout and political power. Unless it is properly managed, we cannot expect to solve major issues.
- Limit size of land holding: The exact size of this to be determined by the needs of the state and society.
- End of absentee land lord: Those who prefer to live and work somewhere else rather than on the land, should not own agriculture lands.
- Land which is freed through limiting size of land holdings and absentee land lords will be used by the state to produce food in order to meet the nutritional requirements of the population.
- Implement flat income tax rate on all incomes. At this time agriculture income is exempt from taxes. This benefits large land lords and deprives the state from a valuable source of revenues. So, by simplifying the tax code and including all incomes uniformly will eliminate this problem.
- Eliminate tenancy system. We believe that tenancy is a form of slavery under current circumstances. It not only creates economic dependency but also social subjugation. This can only be solved by providing alternate job opportunities through setting up industry in rural areas, setting up cooperative farming, increased educational opportunities and skills training programs. This will end their physical, social and political subjugation.
- All workers including those who work on lands will be encouraged to form unions under right of association in order to increase and leverage their bargaining power. It is the decline of this power that has led to the unhindered exploitation of working class in Pakistan.
- Any land owned by state which can be irrigated and made cultivable will be used by the state to fulfil needs of the society which may be to ensure food security and to grow cash crops for revenue to make Pakistan self-sufficient.
- Cooperative farming will be encouraged and state will provide technical assistance and capacity building.
- Methods of farming and irrigation will be modernized. For this state will provide loans on easy terms and conditions as well as technical assistance to small land owners.
- Equal access to women for the use of land.
- Last but not the least there is one kind of oppression which has played havoc with people’s lives, and that is the hold of “pirs” on rural population. The so called pirs which are treated as divine figures, not only reap economic benefits but also have political hold over their followers. Since state is unable to fulfil its obligations in different sectors, poor people try to find solutions to their problems and relief from daily grind through these unholy figures which take full advantage of the innocence, ignorance and gullibility of these poor people.
- Limit the size of house to be owned per family
- Limit the number of houses owned per family
- Eliminate rental property ownership
- Take strict legal action against anyone involved in land grabbing
Housing has become a major problem especially in urban areas. It will be partly solved by taking the above steps. In addition, state will develop housing schemes for the middle and working class families on easy terms.