Speakers at a seminar have pointed out that Pakistan’s food crisis will not be resolved until ‘true’ land reforms are introduced and food security is provided to peasants. The truth of this assertion is supported by evidence from countries that have adopted a policy of equitable land distribution.
The problem in Pakistan has been of a historical nature. The pattern of landholdings in this country that is rooted in the feudal structure was inherited from the colonial era, and allowed the rulers to exploit the system to their own advantage. This system also empowered the big landholders who ensured that land reforms were never introduced. That is why the three land reforms announced in the country — by Gen Ayub in 1959 and Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in 1972 and 1977 —have been flawed and have not changed the power equation. The concentration of land in the hands of a few has meant low crop yields. Thus according to the International Fund for Agricultural Development over 10 per cent of cultivable land in Pakistan is owned by 0.3 per cent of landlords with farms of over 150 acres. They lack the motivation of the small farmer who depends on land for his livelihood.
Land reform is no more on the government’s agenda. The closest it has come to providing land to tillers is by distributing state-owned land under Programme for Grant of Land to Poor Landless Haris in Sindh. However, of the 212,000 acres earmarked for distribution only 41,000 acres have been distributed in the last two years. But possession could not be taken in many cases because the feudals had encroached on it or the land was waterlogged. If the government agreed with the view that a peasant who owns his own land produces higher yields it would seriously consider land reforms and a change in tenancy laws.