In the next few weeks, just after Eid, the Sindh government is going to launch one of its ambitious programmes, land for the landless.
While not very impressive in number of beneficiaries — less than 14,000 in first phase — the message of the programme is quite significant. Each hari family will be given two to eight acres of barrage land.
If not all, an overwhelming majority of haris who are expected to be given ownership title documents by President Asif Zardari, at a ceremony to be held in October or November, will be women, almost all of them destitute.
“We are putting in place a strong support programme to ensure that those who are given land, cultivate it, own it and develop it as their property'', the Additional Chief Secretary, Sindh, Nazar Maher told Dawn.
He said the government had lined up Rs2 billion to set in place a strong support system to provide a full input package and supply of water to the new owners from the Rabi season.
Officials identify land-to-landless project as a poverty alleviation and women emancipation exercise in rural Sindh where to quote a young engineer of the planning department, “gender equation ratio is one of the worst in the region''. He quoted a World Bank report saying, “development indicators of rural females in Sindh remain stubbornly low''. It is a modest programme, if implemented effectively and is expected to improve the socio-economic conditions of a segment of landless peasants.
“It is the most transparent and most publicised land distribution programme so far'', claimed the additional chief secretary who said that people of the province have been informed of available state-owned barrage land with full details and survey numbers right up to deh level which is the lowest primary unit of provincial administrative structure.
Officials in the revenue and in planning and development departments hope to find more government land in future surveys which would also be given to landless farmers.
After carrying out a detailed survey of government land in 22 rural districts, about 212,000 acres were located. Of this, 136,784 acres were barrage-fed, 45,358 acres kutcha area and 30,757 acres barani or rain-fed.
“We have finalised all surveys and formalities to hand over 24,527 acres in seven districts — Larkana, Thatta, Khairpur, Badin, Jacobabad, Sukkur and Nawabshah to 3,459 landless haris. “Applications were invited after the criteria was set, '' Mr Leghari, an official of the Revenue Department said. Now the plan is to distribute 96,722 acres of barrage land to 13,698 hari families.
“The ownership document will make the government a partner for two years during which the land will not be transferable to anyone'', revealed Dr Sono Khangarani of Thardeep, closely associated with implementation of project. He said that the criterion for selecting claimant of government land, the system of ownership and services that include micro-credit, seed, pesticide, tillage, land levelling and water course would be done by Thardeep, Sindh Rural Support Organisation and National Rural Support Programme.
All these three organisations are the offshoots of the Aga Khan Rural Support Programme having a track record in Hunza in the North and which has also been engaged in four arid districts of Sindh for the last several years.
Out of the 886 rural union councils in Sindh, three organisations have prepared poverty profiles of 187 union councils. “This is almost 21-22 per cent of rural population'', Dr Sono said. These surveys detect a destitute population of 12-13 per cent. The poor are roughly 35-38 per cent. “More than 50 per cent rural population of Sindh lives below poverty line'', he said.
A very small part of the destitute is being made owner of asset and they will be given all support to generate income and increase their assets to bring about a qualitative socio-economic change. The three organisations are now negotiating management fees for the execution of the programme. “We will need one office with a workforce of a dozen people to look after land management in five union council areas.About Rs1.2 million will be needed a year for every office,'' he said adding that a five-year agreement would be required.
“Our main job is mobilisation of rural population to implement programme in letter and spirit'', he said and claimed that Thardeep has created a lot of awareness and mobilisation in Thar area from where more than 15,000 boys and girls are in Karachi and Hyderabad to earn money after acquiring skill in new trades.
“We have the same plans for those who are being made owners of land,'' he said. The first job is to train them for farming and help them in having an access to financial institutions for credit. In next five years, every owner will be in position to approach a bank on her/his own. Close relatives of owners-spouse, children, brothers and sisters will be taught skills in different jobs-plumbering, electric wiring, masonry, dairy farming, veterinary, tractors and agricultural implements repairing and poultry related jobs to help them supplement their incomes.
Radicals within the ruling Pakistan People's Party do not consider land to the landless programme an answer to the abject poverty in Sindh. They insist on a radical land reforms which the party leaders rule out.
Only a year ago, the World Bank found that the number of absolute landless peasants was highest in the province of Sindh. The number of wealthy landlords, who own in excess of 100 acres, are less than one per cent of total farmers, but own 150 per cent more land than the total holding of 62 per cent of small farmers with less than five acres.
The moot point is, whether the addition of a few thousand more farmers with ownership of two to eight acres will bring about any qualitative socio-economic change in the province. “Will this empower small farmers''?
“Such piecemeal and small programmes do have some significance in bringing about social and economic changes'', Asad Ali Shah, a former Advisor in Sindh and a son of the Sindh Chief Minister said.