DAWN - Opinion; October 11, 2008

Published October 11, 2008

An acre for every woman?

By Najma Sadeque


THE Sindh government’s recent advertisement spread over two full pages in daily newspapers was impressive. It plans to distribute farmland amongst the ‘poorest of the poor’ haris, preferably women. It has even lifted a ban on the grant of state land to landless peasants.

Services denied to peasants throughout Pakistan’s history, such as credit and access to water, are now pushed as ‘incentives’ rather than fundamental rights. The assistance of agriculturally oriented NGOs has been enlisted under rural support programmes. Some 13,300 families, or over 100,000 persons covering 160 union councils, will initially benefit from 213,000 acres of state land. It doesn’t sound like much, but if the land is indeed allotted to women it can make a huge difference.

Coming in times of hunger, the plan seems heartening. But the nitty-gritty exposes the scheme as not having been thoroughly thought through, making its announcement premature. In its present imprecise form, it is designed to fail. Yet when governments change, ‘uncooperative’ elements can be blamed, so that the party can still claim kudos for ‘trying’.

Questions arise over criteria, the implementation procedure, funding sources for infrastructure development, and a discredited farming system being imposed from above. The identified plots are certainly all state land. But land records, historically never made transparent, exhibit a different reality on the ground. Most are already legally or illegally occupied.

The obvious first steps are to investigate current occupation and the legal measures necessary to evict illegal occupants — and whether that would even be possible given that a parallel law prevails in the interior of Sindh where bureaucrats and the police don’t call the shots. Rights-based NGOs can help illiterate haris apply for plots but they cannot guarantee justice. Would sufficient credit ensure that peasants do not fall into the traditional compound-interest debt trap handed down generation after generation? For an impoverished peasant, credit doesn’t just buy inputs but also meets food requirements and social obligations such as celebrations of birth and marriage. If credit is restricted to inputs, the scheme won’t work — unless the peasant becomes a sharecropper or rents out the land, coming to the same old dead end.

How will the government extend preference to peasant women when many don’t meet the eligibility criterion of national identity cards? Will it first facilitate NICs for all haris? Or will they automatically become ineligible — enabling non-peasants or the non-poor to replace them in the list of beneficiaries?

The proposed policy to provide commercial seeds, pesticides and skill training through a rehashed procedure betrays a lack of familiarity with the traditional farming system. Instead of reverting to non-toxic cheap inputs such as manure and organic farm-made pesticides and free saved seeds, oil dependency and rising costs of production will continue.

The planners appear to be oblivious of the worldwide corrective move against industrial agriculture, and conscious only of what corporate interests bring to their doorstep. Elsewhere, consumers have forced governments in most industrialised countries to take note of the unacceptable degree to which chemical agriculture contributed to cancer, lowered nutrition levels in food crops, raised subsidy-dependant production costs, and led to irreversible environmental damage and global warming.

Our government, on the other hand, doesn’t seem to keep abreast of negative impacts on public health, and know whether damaged soil can continue to produce. It seems unaware that even the UN has finally called for food security, safe food and safe environments, and high employment by returning to small-scale organic farming.

For decades the Soil Association (UK), Transnational Institute (Holland), Food First and Rodale institutes (US), and countless other agriculturally based organisations and scientists have been advocating a departure from chemical agriculture. But with their money, media outreach and power to ‘persuade’ governments, the companies pushing synthetic inputs and ‘technologies’ consolidated their control over global food production, leading to the marginalisation of a billion peasants and today’s mass hunger.

If government ‘incentives’ are prescriptive in nature and not forthcoming for organic farming, the hari is headed for a debt trap. A support system for large-scale industrial monoculture is completely different from a support system for eco-friendly, labour-intensive, small-scale cultivation. The former ultimately kills the land it over-exploits and saturates with chemicals; the latter renews and enriches the soil every year and ultimately out-produces chemical agriculture by anywhere up to 10 times.

The question then arises, how much land should each peasant get? Bureaucrats and industrial-agriculture ‘experts’ maintain that anything less than five to 25 acres is not worthwhile — a dead giveaway of the entrenched ‘chemical mindset’ that ignores alternatives. Our education system has failed to promote the subcontinent’s 10,000-year-old organic agricultural system which ultimately attracted colonial greed. Or highlight the fact that Cuba — when blockaded by the US and its allies — proved that self-sufficiency was possible through organic farming. More countries are following suit. Some even pay farmers to return to organic cultivation.

In a country where males generally resent women owning property, how does the government ensure ownership and operation by women? Plots of under five acres are indeed not worthwhile under wasteful chemical methods but small holdings are fundamental to organic farming: every square inch intensively cultivated and a diverse range of indigenous crops combined with trees (known as agro-forestry) simultaneously planted. The larger the plot, the greater the temptation would be for wayward male relatives to circumvent women’s control. This would be less likely with smaller plots.

In fact, it would be impossible for a woman — or a man — to pursue organics on large holdings without considerable help and credit, since it is necessarily labour-intensive. Approximately one-eighth of an acre of fertile soil fulfils the food needs (excluding rice or wheat) of a family of six adults. Our soil doesn’t quite make the grade, so twice as much (a quarter-acre) is needed for family needs alone. For a modest surplus for sale, at least half an acre; for a thriving micro business, an acre would be ideal.

In three years organic farms can reach their peak, as the soil comes to be naturally detoxified and recovers lost micro-organisms. In seven or fewer years, depending on the type of trees planted, orchards would no longer require much care, providing both food and surplus for sale. The scheme is desirable, and success possible, provided that organic farming is made a prerequisite for distribution. But women would need the security of usufruct rights, as well as functional literacy to be able to constantly learn and document their location-specific knowledge. It could enable millions of damaged, abandoned acres to be regenerated and significantly raise employment levels in rural areas.

The government would be well advised to enlist the expertise of the few organic farming experts we have, and those from India where knowledge of organic practices is highly advanced. Learning from our neighbours could turn the run-up into a head start.

The me-too syndrome

By F.S. Aijazuddin


SPLIT from the same geographical ovum 61 years ago, Pakistan has lived apart from India like a severed physical twin. It has always been aware of a previous presence. Every thought, every act, every policy move has been a reaction to something India said or did or threatened to do. Earlier, it used to be manifest in the theatre of conventional arms. Today, it can be seen at the test site of nuclear capability.

In the previous bipolar world, it was easy to choose your friends. Your enemy’s enemy was your friend. India and China fought a war, therefore we courted China as a friend. India flirted with the Communist bloc, therefore the United States became our friend. Common enmities were justification enough for creating or joining an alliance.

Now that the United States has emerged as the singular victor from the Cold War, international politics has become a free-for-all. Your enemy’s enemy is no longer your friend; your friend’s friend could well be your next enemy. Opportunist countries like ours just do not know who to trust any more.

For years, our sun in more ways than one rose dependably from the West. We assumed it would never set, which is why the US-India nuclear deal is regarded here with such foreboding. It is as ominous as a solar eclipse.

We ought to have discerned the portents. We had been given enough warning by more than one US president. When John F. Kennedy forgave Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru his flirtation with the Non-Aligned Movement (and by association communist China), we should have realised that the $160m of US military aid, given to India between 1962 and 1966 after the Sino-Indian war, was not simply belated largesse but conscience money for not rescuing the Indians earlier from themselves.

When President Bill Clinton during his visit to India in 2000 described it as a “natural partner”, he was not advocating organic diplomacy. When, six years later, President George W. Bush deepened Clinton’s tracks with the statement that “Pakistan and India are different countries with different needs and different histories”, we should have recognised that we too were being relegated to history.

When Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice announced this year that her government had de-hyphenated India from Pakistan, we should have interpreted her words for what they were — a candid acknowledgement that India did not stand on the other side of Pakistan so far as the United States was concerned. Diplomatically, India and Pakistan stood equidistant from the US; strategically, the Indian peninsula shared common borders and common interests with mainland America.

For Pakistan, de-hyphenation from India is a second vivisection, this time from a Ravana of its own military fears and anxieties. Pakistan still continues to be one of the highest recipients of US aid, but that is absorbed primarily by the armed forces under one imaginative heading or another. As one analyst put it, Islamabad’s view is that “the ‘de-hyphenated’ policy… has virtually come to mean that Washington is focusing on the Pakistani military role as an efficient, well-trained and well-equipped border militia in the tribal tracts with Afghanistan.”

And what does de-hyphenation mean to India? Freedom from a shared past, and a second boost to strive for a separate future. It means being allowed by its international elders (who in its heart it knows not to be its betters) to be treated as an adult, a ‘responsible steward’ capable of steering its own ship of state. It means having the United States on its side — at the United Nations, at the IAEA, at the 45-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group, and at the order book end for nuclear equipment, fuel and supplies. Such rewards do not come on demand; they have to be earned.

However facile India’s contention may appear to some that it needs nuclear technology to meet its energy deficit (Mrs Gandhi’s ‘peaceful nuclear’ has now become Mr Manmohan Singh’s ‘civilian nuclear’), this argument has been accepted at face value by everyone that matters. India wants to generate 25,000MW from nuclear sources, and its demands are met. Pakistan proposes under its Medium-Term Development Framework Plan to enhance its energy supplies from nuclear sources from a present paltry 400MW to an ambitious 8,800MW by the year 2030. Its pipe dream remains in the pipeline.

India has electrified 95 per cent of its villages; Pakistan is still struggling to connect villages to the national grid. India plans one additional power plant every month (China by comparison commissions one plant every week); over the past eight years, Pakistan has added only 2,100MW to its power capacity.

India meets over 50 per cent of its energy requirements from indigenous coal; Pakistan’s coal deposits like its heroes lie buried below ground. India’s trade with the US is almost $40bn with a potential of $100bn; Pakistan imports $2bn worth of goods from the US.

India sees its US nuclear deal as a cashier’s grille where anyone who is willing to supply it nuclear reactors and fuel can apply. The US views the treaty as a token, permitting it to stand at the head of the queue. The Indo-US deal is India’s reward for behaving with brahmacharyan celibacy, by not succumbing to the temptation of nuclear proliferation. Pakistan’s nuclear programme has been compromised by its own Dr Frankenstein who was exposed peddling its secrets to the wrong customers.

Before we make demands of the United States to treat us at par with India, we might do well to reconsider also the limited efficacy of our own nuclear deterrence. Are we still sovereign even in that? If Mr K. Subrahmanyam (former Indian secretary for defence production) is to be believed, apparently not. He has cautioned: “Pakistan should also take into account that it is under constant surveillance by the US super-secret ECHELON system and it cannot rule out a pre-emptive strike by the US if it were to think of a nuclear strike on India.”

Had that been written some years ago, it would have appeared far-fetched. Today, with the Americans pounding Fata, it carries in its syllables the chill of the possible.

www.fsaijazuddin.pk

Lessons from Georgia

By Martin Woollacott


IT is amazing how swiftly a new crisis can knock into perspective one which dominated discussion only a short time before. Just a few weeks ago we were debating whether the West was heading for a new cold war with Russia, or a new Crimean war over Ukraine, or a new Great Game in central Asia. Then the markets began their decline and Georgia and its possible consequences were swept aside.

But the profound sense of insecurity now felt on both sides of the old east-west divide should allow us to see Russia’s Georgian intervention in a new light. It is not just that the financial crisis has hit Russia with particular force. While Russians were inspecting the new Georgian exhibit in Moscow’s Museum of the Armed Forces, shares on the Moscow stock exchange were dropping like stones. Five days in October, it seemed, might turn out to be more important for everybody, including Russians, than five days in August, which is also the title of the exhibition. Russia’s oil and raw material advantages suddenly look much less solid if the world economy is entering a period of low growth. And without high earnings from those commodities, the plans for military and industrial modernisation look that much more difficult to achieve.

As the first European monitors entered the security zone around South Ossetia this week, Russian leaders and officials have been transmitting messages to their western counterparts. President Dmitry Medvedev said in St Petersburg that there was no question of a new cold war, while the Russian and American ambassadors in Washington and Moscow coauthored an article on Russo-American partnership. Former US secretaries of state Henry Kissinger and George Shultz have added their plea for moderation. The silver lining of the financial crisis for Russo-western relations may conceivably be that more reasonable attitudes will in time emerge, based in part on the simple recognition that we are all in the same boat.

While American foreign policy was undergoing its own hardening of the arteries under President Bush, Russian foreign policy was entering a period characterised by an impulse to undermine other country’s projects and by a determination to reassert Russian power. Scholars such as Arne Westad, who have written on the sophistication, the common sense and the moral sensibility that marked Soviet and immediate post-Soviet foreign policy at its occasional best, have noted a loss of these qualities. What can be called a “chessboard” view of the world began to prevail. The Russian government and its circle of advisers do not properly understand how the United States and the European Union work, and have excluded those Russians who do.

Every move by other countries is seen as motivated purely by self-interest, or construed as an attempt to diminish or disadvantage Russia. In the process Russia’s own real interests in, for example, persuading Iran to forgo nuclear weapons were forgotten, and Russia’s own weaknesses overlooked. As the evidence comes in on Georgia, those weaknesses are evident. The military operation, though successful, was also shambolic. The Russian commander got lost and field communications collapsed within hours of its start.

In spite of the money being spent on arms, this is not the profile of a truly modernising military. The internal political context, at which Putin hinted when he seemed to imply that a failure to act over Georgia would have had consequences in the Russian part of the Caucasus, suggests another kind of weakness. Chechens spearheaded the Russian attack in Georgia, but Russia’s control of Chechnya is both fragile and indirect and its grip on the other republics is far from solid.

The Georgian operation may well have been intended, in part, to impress Moscow’s readiness to act if need be. Finally, in their hankering after a world in which they are coequal with the United States, the Russians seem to have assumed they had the potential to be the leader of a bloc of nations opposed to US policies, but the aftermath of Georgia shows the reverse to be the case.

Western policy has not been designed to avoid exacerbating Russian neuroses. We have brought out the worst in them. The point that people like Kissinger and Shultz are making is important. If we want a more coherent and realistic Russia, we had better start being more coherent and realistic ourselves.

—The Guardian, London

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