KARACHI: Representatives of farmers and agricultural workers and non-governmental organisations working for their rights at a webinar organised on Monday asked the government to provide immediate and substantial economic relief through social protection initiatives and subsidies that reach all marginalised sectors, especially women.

They also called upon the government to ensure that pandemic-related actions do not affect the lives and livelihoods of small and landless farmers.

The webinar was jointly organised by Pakistan Kissan Mazdoor Tehreek (PKMT), Roots for Equity and Asian Peasant Coalition in connection with International Day of the Landless.

Highlighting the plight of his community, Nabi Jan, a landless peasant from Garhi Bajaz village in Peshawar, said his community was facing acute hardships, including harassment and imprisonment, at the hand of feudal lords who were well-represented in the political leadership of Pakistan.

“Under the garb of investments and infrastructural development of the Northern Bypass, peasants are once again being pushed out of land,” he said, adding that while the case was pending in court, peasants remained determined to fight for their rights.

Tayyab-ur-Rahman, a small farmer from Mansehra, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, spoke about the importance of farmers, communities asserting their customary rights over the ecologies they had nurtured and were an integral part of for many centuries.

“As part of the ‘land grab agenda’, government authorities are implementing measures that restrict local communities’ access to forest resources,” he noted.

Rehana Kausar, a woman farmer from Ghotki, demanded an end to feudalism, saying that land redistribution was the only way to address the concerns of landless peasants.

“In Sindh, feudal and patriarchal forces collude to keep land out of women’s hands and undervalue women’s agricultural labour, paying them much lower wages than men. Even in rare instances where women have land in their names, they are not allowed meaningful control over decisions regarding land use.”

The demands put forward by speakers included an end to neoliberal agricultural laws and corporate control of food and agriculture sector that disadvantages local farmers and initiatives that ensure that farmers were not displaced from indigenous land.

They also called for prioritising equitable and genuine land reforms that allow land redistribution to landless farmers, including women agriculture workers to ensure food security and food sovereignty for all farmers.

They also called for allocation of funds for the creation of a robust public healthcare system that makes quality healthcare accessible to rural populations, including free testing services for Covid-19 and quarantine and treatment facilities.

Published in Dawn, March 31st, 2021

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