ISLAMABAD: The caretaker government of Punjab has signed an agreement to hand over at least 45,267 acres of land in three districts — Bhakkar, Khushab, and Sahiwal — of the province to the Pakistan Army for ‘Corporate Agriculture Farming’.

According to a document, the military’s land directorate wrote to the Punjab chief secretary, Board of Revenue and secretaries of the agriculture, forest, livestock and irrigation departments for handing over of 42,724-acre land in tehsils Kaloor Kot and Mankera in Bhakkar, 1,818 acres in tehsils Quaidabad and Khushab in Khushab, and 725 acres in tehsil Chichawatni of Sahiwal.

The letter referred to a notification of the Punjab government dated Feb 20, 2023, and a joint venture (JV) agreement of March 8. It reminded that “while signing the JV management agreement on March 8, it was decided that state lands immediately required for the project be handed over to Pakistan Army.”

According to informed sources, the JV has been signed between the military, the Punjab government, and private firms dealing with corporate farming.

Insiders claim military will ‘reap no benefit’; 40pc of revenue to go to Punjab, 20pc for R&D

Speaking about the salient features of the proposed project, the sources said that the Punjab government will provide the land while the army will utilise its resources and retain the management of the project. The private sector, on the other hand, will invest and provide auxiliary support, including the supply of fertilisers.

Military sources confirmed this development and said that the army was “not taking over the ownership of the land as it will remain the property” of the Punjab government. “The intervention of the army will provide a coherent administrative structure,” the sources added.

They said that the land in question is mostly barren, uncultivated, and under-cultivated and added that the army with the assistance of the relevant stakeholders, including its JV partners and locals, will turn this into fertile land.

The sources said that the Punjab Board of Revenue has conducted surveys for months and identified these lands for corporate farming purposes.

The sources said that the project will be managed by retired army officers and the army will not get any pecuniary benefit out of this project rather the profit from the farming will go to the locals, the Punjab government, and firms that will invest in the project.

At least 40pc of the revenue generated from the cultivation will go to the Punjab government, 20 per cent will be spent on modern research and development in the agriculture sector, while the remaining will be used for the succeeding crops and expansion of the project.

They said that the agri sector’s growth rate from 4 per cent in 1960 dropped to 2.5pc in 2022 due to “flawed reforms, ineffective agriculture policies coupled with climate change, and population boom”.

Citing the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics (PBS), the sources said that at least 27pc of the total cultivated land of Pakistan was not being utilised. In order to deal with this situation, the Punjab government has made a plan to restore the agriculture sector with the help of the Pakistan Army. With the use of modern agricultural methods, machinery, and high-quality seeds, agricultural production will be increased manifold, the sources claimed.

According to the sources, in the first phase of the project, different varieties of pulses, millets and rice will be cultivated. This will be followed by large-scale cultivation of canola and wheat.

Published in Dawn, March 17th, 2023

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