Protest demonstrations by hundreds of farmers of Punjab against the provincial government have been ongoing since Tuesday last week. The protests finally culminated on Thursday after the Chief Minister Punjab assured them of a resolution of their problems at the earliest. They had warned that they would take to streets again if the government failed to address their grievances and surely they returned a mere three days later insisting that their demands had not yet been met. Though three days is not a reasonable amount of time to have all their ultimatums met, their protest in the burning heat shows the extent of their desperation.

The farmers remain one of the most marginalised people in Pakistan, buckling under crippling poverty and lack of basic amenities. The farmers protested under the banners of the organisations Kissan Ittehad and Kissan Board against unavailability of gunny bags to wheat growers, blackmailing by sugar miller owners and the infamous Kissan package that allegedly no one has benefitted from despite grand promises. There are similar reports from Dadu in Sindh, where the food departments that sells gunny sacks are controlled by local mafias. Sacks of wheat as set by the government are supposed to be for Rs 3200, but are bought at Rs 2800 per sack by the mafia and sold to the government at Rs 3200, robbing the small farmer of Rs 400 per sack. In April, the government drew criticism from international human rights groups due to its use of excessive force to prevent tenant farmers in Okara from protesting for land rights. The district administration imposed Section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code, a colonial era law to restrict gatherings, a blatant disregard for freedom of peaceful protest.

Even at the gathering at Mall Road last week, the protesters were largely ignored by the government and were used by the opposition instead to garner political support. The use of farmers as political pawns has to end. They are the backbone of our economy. It is not an exaggeration to say that without small local farmers we are doomed to starve, and very soon. Our agriculture is not sustainable, and the government has to make sure that food production is a priority if we are to survive this century. Climate change is expected to wreak havoc with agriculture and local rulers are only busy in making sure their palms are greased, rather than worrying about the survival of future generations.