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AN internationally funded project was launched in Sindh last week in an attempt to improve land tenancy for landless farmers.

Landless farmers (or haris) in the province usually have access to land as tenants through paperless agreements between them and landlords. Without having any documentation, these farmers often end up as vulnerable bonded labourers.

The project — Improved Land Tenancy in Sindh — was launched by the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations with the financial assistance of the European Union (EU).

The project will contribute to poverty alleviation in Pakistan as well as a sound management of natural resources, in particular for smallholders

Under the project, four million euros ($5m) will be spent over the next four years to benefit 12,600 households in eight districts, including Dadu, Jamshoro, Larkana, Matiari, Mirpurkhas, Tando Allahyar, Tando Muhammad Khan and Sujawal.

According to FAO, 4,800 informal tenancy agreements between haris and landlords will be conducted to contribute to improving livelihoods and reducing poverty along with ensuring a better use of natural resources in the targeted areas.

Agriculture is the backbone of Sindh’s economy and is a multifaceted sector with farreaching implications on issues ranging from rural poverty, food security, water resource management, infrastructure development and employment opportunities to export earnings. About 30 to 35 per cent of the province’s population lives below the poverty line, and a majority of the poor are rural.

The EU is collaborating with the FAO on promoting the establishment in Sindh of a land tenure system that can sustainably improve the equitable access to, and governance of, land and natural resources, allowing for improvements in agricultural production, food security and nutrition, according to EU Ambassador to Pakistan Jean-François Cautain.

The project will contribute to poverty alleviation in Pakistan as well as a sound management of natural resources, in particular for smallholder farmers and other users of natural resources.

Commenting on the project launching, the late Sindh Minister for Planning and Development Hazar Khan Bijarani had hoped to see programmes of poverty alleviation all across Sindh. He had lauded the FAO-EU efforts to help the Sindh government improve livelihoods in rural areas with a focus on rural women.

Explaining the benefits of the project, FAO Representative in Pakistan Mina Dowlatchahi said the project would implement elements of the Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forests (VGGT) for unlocking the potential of agriculture and rural development in Sindh.

It will enable farmers to improve their livelihoods and adopt climate-resilient an innovative agricultural practices. It will also promote nutrition education through Women Open Schools and nutrition-sensitive agriculture interventions.

The VGGT will be used to improve tenure security for farmers taking into account agricultural productivity and gender inequality issues. These guidelines are a set of internationally accepted standards of good practices in relation to tenure governance, which can guide decision-making and policy development regarding matters related to tenure security in the context of arrangements between landlords and haris.

Land and water governance will be improved in the eight districts of Sindh in line with the VGGT, with a focus on female and male smallholder farmers and other disadvantaged population.

The relations and interactions between landlords and haris are challenging and in such a situation instances of bonded work emerge. At the same time, land governance issues and tenure insecurity hinder efforts to enhance agricultural productivity. That situation has put more than 70 per cent of households in food insecurity; therefore, tenure security and responsible land governance are necessary to overcome these issues.

The FAO says the project will be instrumental in the introduction of governance arrangements leading towards secure tenancy within the framework of the existing legal and institutional framework. It will also help develop capacity of local institutions working to improve life in rural Sindh.

One of the main objectives of the project is to support the establishment of agreements between landlords and haris to ensure that both parties have rights and duties avoiding exploitative practices. It will strengthen capacities of local institutions for responsible governance of tenure aligned with the VGGT. Furthermore, the project will enhance tenure security through the use of the VGGT while tackling agricultural productivity matters and gender inequality issues.

The objectives of the project have strategic alignment with the VGGT and sustainable development goals since the two goals of sustainable development are to end poverty in all its forms everywhere, besides ending hunger, achieving food security, improving nutrition and promoting sustainable agriculture.

SDG-1 ensures that all men and women, in particular the poor and the vulnerable, have equal rights to economic resources, as well as access to basic services, ownership and control over land and other forms of property, inheritance, natural resources.

SDG-2 targets aim to double the agricultural productivity and incomes of small-scale food producers, in particular women, indigenous peoples, family farmers, pastoralists and fishers.

Major stakeholders of the project are the Ministry of National Food Security and Research, Sindh Revenue Board, provincial departments, civil society organisations and private sector organisations, besides poor rural population in selected districts.

A project management unit has been established at the FAO office in Hyderabad. To speed up the project activities at field level, technical staff has been moved from the FAO Multan to Hyderabad.

Published in Dawn, The Business and Finance Weekly, February 5th, 2018