KARACHI: The debate on land reforms has been an integral part of freedom movements, and since partition Pakistan has been seeking to establish policies, to varying levels of success, that positively contribute to its agricultural development.
This was stated on Wednesday at the launch of a study by the Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research (Piler) that focused on the land tenure system in Pakistan.
‘Profiles of land tenure system in Pakistan’ is a report by Dr Kaiser Bengali, senior economist and adviser to the chief minister of Balochistan. The study was conceptualised by Piler in the last quarter of 2011 taking into account “a period when the impact of the 2010 and 2011 floods exposed the extreme marginalisation of the rural, landless population”. The report presents an emerging pattern of the land tenure system in different provinces of the country, and tries to understand how the changing dynamics of power contributes to them.
Stressing the necessity of promoting social equity in the provinces, Piler representatives spoke about the need to amend The Sindh Tenancy Act, as well as start a movement to distribute land in the landless class, thereby transforming the lives of millions.
Dr Bengali shared the results of his study, which was undertaken between January and June 2012, and covered eight flood-affected areas in the four provinces. The districts covered included Daddu, Thatta, Badin, Bahawalpur, Swat and Jaffarabad. However, according to Dr Bengali, “the survey in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa districts could not be conducted on account of the adverse security situation and refusal of the military authorities to grant permission”.
“The poverty I saw in camps after the flooding was nowhere represented in official statistics,” he said, adding that how “large land owners had utilised higher ground to set up their farm lands, leaving small land owners at the mercy of the floods”. This has been done over a long period. He classified small farmers and tenants as the most vulnerable.
With regard to data collection, he found it to be very difficult due to the “sense of fear present because of the waderas”. This is why not many farmers were willing to talk and the team faced the threat too. “This publication should be regarded as a preliminary study and the data also needs refining,” he added.
An important part of the study was the inclusion of an equal number of female respondents in the sample to allow a more nuanced and balanced perspective on “gender empowerment indicators”. This was picked up by Bina Agarwal, joining the launch through Skype. Ms Agarwal is a professor of development economics and environment at the University of Manchester and has to her credit extensive research in tenancy and agrarian reforms in South Asia, and specifically in India.
Though she said she believed that both countries faced similar issues, it was more magnified in Pakistan due to the widespread prevalence of the feudal system. “The key to economic progress is agricultural growth and the inequality that the landless face is detrimental to this,” she said. Stressing the importance of the small farm holder, she said “securing his future is essential. This can be achieved through modernisation of equipment, state funding, credit, access to water and any other means to improve his land productivity”. However, the ground reality greatly differed, especially in Pakistan.
The feminisation of agriculture was also a theme Ms Agarwal discussed and said: “This is a reality seen all over Asia. Men are moving onto non-farm sectors and women are left behind with the land ownership.” However, according to her, data collection was greatly lacking and no clear figures were present regarding the number of women who claimed land ownership.
Urban planner and architect Arif Hasan shared his views about the increasing densification of cities that was unplanned and remained unchecked. He suggested ways to combat this increasing trend by suggesting a land ceiling act limiting the land ownership of an individual. He also suggested ways to restrict speculative housing schemes, private as well as state owned.
The speakers tried to encapsulate a wide range of topics; they aimed to generate informed debate on land reforms, explore disparity in incomes, the reasons why most landowners suffered from high debt, food consumption, and the link between gender and poverty.
Published in Dawn, May 14th, 2015