What is your view regarding land reforms in Pakistan and what role is your organisation playing to facilitate these reforms?
The land reforms in this country have not changed social indicators such as hunger, poverty, disease and street crime. If improvement is not palpable, then it is obvious that the land reforms have failed. However, progress is impossible because we are trapped in a ceiling debate.
There is an imbalance in the distribution of assets, which creates a power imbalance.
The way forward is to get rid of this power imbalance and this can be achieved by eliminating feudalism which is different from ceiling on land ownership. However, it is a difficult task as all parliamentarians are from the feudal class. We network with organisations that represent the peasant and small farmer class in this country and rally for farmers’ rights. We have been representing this case at different levels and are putting pressure on political parties to include land reforms in their election manifestos. New challenges have been emerging annually which adds to an already difficult task
What challenges have you faced and what are their implications on the progression of your ideas regarding land reforms?
The new challenges are corporatisation of agriculture and land lease to foreign investors. Pakistan has opened its land to foreign companies and investors to lease land for decades, which has been going on for quite a while now. An Abu Dhabi-based company has acquired 3200 acres of land near Mirpur where they grow a particular variety of grass, all of which is exported. This has displaced hundreds of farmers who worked on that land and deprived them of their livelihood.
What are the implications of the corporate farming on the economy?
When the government leases out millions of acres of land for 99 years, it drives people into poverty and hunger. We are experiencing biodiversity losses and a greater challenge is being mounted on our food sovereignty. The policy also propels urbanisation. As a result, people displaced from the rural areas migrate to towns and cities to seek employment in sectors other than agriculture. When agriculture provides 70 per cent of your employment, you can imagine the displacements that corporatisation of agriculture can cause for example, farmers who moved to urban areas over the last three to four years are mostly those displaced because of BT Cotton.
Can you elaborate on how BT Cotton has affected livelihoods?
BT Cotton is a market-driven practice of agriculture and it increases input costs as it needs more water, fertilisers, pesticides and machinery. Small landowners cannot afford these costs, therefore it is not a sustainable agricultural practice because it is open pollinated.
Over a period of time, all our indigenous varieties of cotton, which have existed for centuries, will be contaminated. You will remember examples of small farmers taken to court by big companies because of genetically modified crops spreading to the neighbouring farm and the court viewing it as stealing of seed technology. There are evidences of farmers being driven to suicide because of genetically modified seeds and corporatisation.
—Zubair A. Dar