During the last couple of years the increase in prices of staple commodities (wheat, rice, corn, soybeans and barley) has forced many states of the world, including oil-rich Arab monarchies and Middle Eastern countries to grow their own crops to manage supplies for their domestic consumers and also to build a stockpile for bad times. In pursuit of what is being called food security, some Gulf countries, including Saudi Arabia and the UAE, have focused on Pakistan to undertake corporate farming on its fertile lands.
Prior to a huge investment in corporate farming these countries must have assessed the level of political instability in this country. Contrary to conventional western investors, these Arab companies are not at all hesitant in launching projects in Pakistan. Some private companies, on behalf of the UAE government, have already purchased 800,000 acres of land in Pakistan, say newspaper reports. They have acquired more than 1.5 hectares of land in Balochistan near Mirani Dam to begin mechanised farming. They are expected to sign a memorandum of understanding with the Balochistan government. The UAE is also in negotiation with the Sindh government to acquire land in Jamshoro close to the National Highway, Shikarpur, Larkana and Sukkur. They also showed interest with governments of the NWFP and Punjab. In Punjab they want to invest in the area surrounding Mianwali, Sargodha, Khushab, Jhang and Faisalabad. The government has not only agreed to sell the state land to the UAE but is also offering attractive legal and tax incentives. Most of the food rights activists believe that corporate farming will transform the country’s agriculture, from subsistence-based to corporate and export-oriented nature. This will encourage big landlords to convert to corporate farms, potentially immunising their land from future agrarian reforms, and spurring new investments in capital-intensive technologies that will displace farm workers.
Corporate farming will also displace subsistence farmers, forcing them out of a livelihood and causing massive rural unemployment. Subsistence farmers already maintain a precarious existence in Pakistan. About 80 percent of farmers have less than two hectares of land or are landless. Those who grow crops will be forced into competition with a highly organised and capital-intensive corporate sector and may find themselves unable to stay afloat. As a result, many of these small farmers would sell off their land to private companies or big landlords.
NADEEM ALI WAGAN,
Karachi, August 8.