From colonial to corporate landgrabbing – the case of Pakistan

2012 Asia Land Forum

The Asia Land Forum took place from October 2-3, 2012 in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. With the theme “Democratizing Governance on Land towards Enhanced Access of the Poor to Land and Common Property Resources”, the forum brought together civil society leaders, government officials, academia, and experts from Asia to define the way forward to achieving good land governance.

Presentation at The Asia Land Forum by Najma Sadeque 

Year of publication: 2012
Country: Pakistan

Landgrabbing is not new in Pakistan. It is over a century old. This is because, despite industrialization and modern facilities for the middle and upper classes, Pakistan remains primarily a feudal and tribal country where vast lands are monopolized by chieftians who possess the power of life and death over their subjects. Ironically, they were strengthened under colonialism when great tracts of lands were gifted to intermediaries who controlled the people and collected revenue from them on behalf of the British. The masses, especially the peasants, remain disenfranchised to this day.

Landgrabbing is not new in Pakistan. It is over a century old.
This is because, despite industrialization and modern facilities for the middle and upper classes, Pakistan remains primarily a feudal and tribal country where vast lands are monopolized by chieftians who possess the power of life and death over their subjects. Ironically, they were strengthened under colonialism when great tracts of lands were gifted to intermediaries who controlled the people and collected revenue from them on behalf of the British. The masses, especially the peasants, remain disenfranchised to this day.
The wealthiest 4% of rural landowners own over half of all cultivated land. About 50% of rural families are landless, and rising. Pakistan‟s laws are essentially a continuation of the colonial legal system, especially in the case of land. The British introduced the gifting land to officers, senior bureaucrats and members of the judiciary. Under the Land Colonisation Act (1904), 10% of all newly cultivatable land through extension of the canal network, went to military officers. The Land Acquisition Act of 1904 enables the state to appropriate private land. Police brutality, corruption and peasant oppression is routine.
After Pakistan came into being, the transition from colonial rule to independent rule has shown no difference in substance. All federal mega-projects built with foreign loans were essentially designed to serve industrial interests and the military, rather than local communities. Not surprisingly therefore, Pakistan‟s history has alternated feudal-led civilian government with military rule.
Patronage is the hallmark of Pakistani governance, and land reform invariably ended up benefiting large landholders rather than peasants, just as development budgets gave preferential treatment to villages of individual parliamentarians.
In the late 1990s, the Benazir Bhutto‟s government declared corporate farming an industry. It reportedly approved 19 multinational companies for business.
In 2001-2, General Musharaf‟s government passed the Corporate Agricultural Farming policy and Corporate Farming Ordinance. It offered huge incentives and substantial tax breaks to investors. His Federal Investment Minister even announced a security force of 100,000 to protect all investments. Trade shows were held in various Middle Eastern countries followed by negotiations.
In 2009, the Zardari government initially offered one million acres of land, and later a further 6 million acres, under a 50 or 99 year lease. It even overrode caps to landholdings declared under previous land reforms. All decisions throughout were unilaterally made.
Needless to say, there was never any difficulty in any government seeing eye-to-eye with World Bank and its arm, International Finance Corporation (IFC) and Foreign Investment Advisory Service, and the World Trade Organisation‟s (WTO) and its Agreement on Agriculture.
Many Baloch tribal chiefs and Sindhi feudal landlords become Provincial Ministers, and are well known for keeping their people subjugated and helpless through brutal repression. There lives are subject to their master‟s pleasure.
The landless are allowed to live and work on the feudal or tribal landlord‟s lands in exchange for their blind loyalty and labour for wages that keep them in permanent debt and penury. These people would be the first to be thrown off the land when foreign investors take possession of the land. The oppression, inequity, cruelty and deprivation have been so great for the 65 years of Pakistan‟s existence, it is not surprising that peasant movements as well as separatist movements have arisen.
The legal system has been historically biased against peasants and the poor in general, and only in recent years has been reasserting itself, although they are so overwhelmed with issues that genuine land reform and land rights have not been touched on yet.
Although provincial governments have differences with the central government, there has been no difference of opinion on the matter corporate farming. Governments have justified corporate farming policy on grounds of low productivity due to a lack of capital on the part of peasants. They even plead for technology transfer so as to benefit poor farmers under foreign investment, which peasants however cannot afford. Yet governments have never attempted to provide equitable opportunities through credit and protection against seizure of land in the event of temporary difficulties such as crop failure or personal debt, which are the only hurdles to sustainable and highly profitable small-scale natural farming.
A Land Bank is being established to facilitate the sale of state land, and details of type (breeding or milk and meat processing), acreage and infrastructure, albeit highly selective, are available on the website of the Board of Investment (BOI) since late 2009. A good deal of information of what is available to potential investors is posted, but much less is said about what is already leased and treated with a lot of secrecy. Most of the uncultivated state land lies in Balochistan, desert regions along the Indian border, namely Thar and Cholistan, Sindh province and southern Punjab.
There are two categories of state land available for 50 or 99 years lease:
(a) 15,000 acres of land available for 50 acre lots from state farms, which are already equipped with some infrastructure;
(b) 500 and 350,000 acres of semi-arid land of commons or uninhabited land, available in 500-acre plots.
Many government seed, crop and livestock farms and experimental stations farms were established during the colonial years and continue to function. In Punjab province alone, over a million tenant families living on 70,000 acres of state farmland will face eviction the day the land is leased by foreign investors. In Khyber-Pakhtoonwa there are over 5-1/4 thousand such acres and almost 17,000 acres in Balochistan on offer.
50,000 acres of farmland in the Punjab constitute military farms on state-owned land. Only these have not been offered for foreign investment….. yet. The more modern offspring of feudal and tribal chiefs not interested in agriculture would find it more appealing to lease their own vast holdings to foreign investors.
Elsewhere, a number of communities have revealed that in 2009, the Board of Revenue surveyors warned them that they would be forcibly evicted if necessary, when the land is eventually leased to foreign investors.
BOI‟s website includes 27,000 acres of cultivable land in Sindh, but not the hundreds of thousands acres in the Thar desert region, for which at least one Memorandum of Understanding has been signed. In Punjab, over 31,000 acres of „uncultivated‟ state land, from 500 to 11,500 acres plots, were listed as available. Six million acres available in the Cholistan desert region in the Punjab. In
Balochistan, individual plots of up to 380,000 acres, are available, the total coming to around 1 million acres.
The press has reported a number of negotiations, mostly with Middle Eastern investors, but details for most are not forthcoming.
In 2009, the press reported one Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) for150,000 acres in the Thar desert in Sindh, with a Canadian bio-fuel company. But it seems to be held up for the moment; again, it is not known why. Thereafter negotiations are ongoing with Qatar and Bahrain, away from the public eye.
The conditions under BOI require an equivalent investment of at least £2 000 per acre in the first four years, but for a paltry rent of £3 per acre per year. Tax exemptions hold for the first 10 years, and unrestricted repatriation of produce and profits for the same length of time; by then the land will perhaps will not be able to yield any more under intensive farming practices. Investors are not compelled to hire locally. Water supply is not guaranteed in writing but no one takes land without water, and significantly, no restrictions are written in about water usage. How Pakistan will benefit from land-grabbed corporate farming is still not clear.
Balochistan is the largest of Pakistan‟s four provinces, occupies over half the territory but is home to only 6% of the Pakistani population. Despite the fact that it has vast mineral deposits, boasts the strategic port of Gwadar, and is of great importance to the Chinese, it is the least developed of all. It also has the least water, not enough for the minimal needs of the locals. Currently, many locals are up in arms against the government for the repression suffered since the 60s.
Abraaj Capital is a Middle Eastern investment firm, and in 2009, it was the Middle East press that reported that the Chief Minister of Balochistan had signed a Memorandum of Understanding for 200,000 acres of land near Mirani Dam. They also reported that investors from the United Arab Emirates, Emirate Sovereign Wealth Funds, and Abraaj had acquired 800,000 acres for agribusiness. To quite down local unrest, the deal includes a “corporate social responsibility package” that promised free local hospitals and schools, and a joint £12 million Abraaj–state irrigation scheme, although the location of the acquisition is not known.
Claims have also been made about its cancellation, but it could also be a rumour to soothe the opposition. But one thing is certain. Whenever the foreign investors come in, millions of poor locals will be displaced in at least three provinces of Pakistan, especially in Balochistan, and exacerbate the water shortage that Pakistan is already suffering from.
Ironically enough, the only reason that none of the land-grabbing deals have either not come through or are not operational yet is because Pakistan is going through violently turbulent times, and foreign investors are reluctant to risk their lives or their money until peace has returned. A future peace therefore holds high risk of land-grab unless a truly democratic, pro-people and pro-poor government comes into power.

http://www.landcoalition.org/publications/colonial-corporate-landgrabbing-case-pakistan

 

 

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About denebsumbul

Documentarian, Activist, Journalist, Photographer, Capacity Trainer
This entry was posted in Land Grab, Neo-colonialism and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

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