Pakistan’s misguided pursuit of corporate farming

Pursuit of Corporate Farming
Khanewal Model Agriculture Farm (Photo: News Intervention)

As Pakistan’s economy grapples with mounting debt and financial challenges, the recent launch of the “Khanewal Model Agriculture Farm” raises concerns about the government’s priorities and its ability to address the needs of the people. The enthusiasm surrounding this venture suggests a shift towards agricultural development, albeit one that is fraught with historical pitfalls and potential for exacerbating inequality.

The “Khanewal Model Agriculture Farm”, spanning a vast expanse of 2250 acres, is presented as a step towards a greener future. However, this initiative, part of the so-called Green Revolution, has historical echoes of past failures. The Green Revolution of the mid-1960s, championed by the Ayub dictatorship under the influence of World Bank Group President Robert McNamara, promised to increase agricultural productivity and alleviate hunger and poverty through the adoption of modern farming technologies. The results were far from its ambitious goals.

This revolution was not a defense of “nature”; rather, it commenced with the proclamation of alleviating hunger. Approximately 12 agricultural laborers or farmers became unemployed with the introduction of a single tractor. During the era of the Green Revolution, a mere 6% of Pakistan’s landlords held ownership over 40% of the land, while half of the rural population possessed a mere 6% of the land. Regrettably, this glaring inequality remained unattended, and the issue of feudalism persisted without resolution. The feudal lords were exposed to Western technology, fertilizers, and agricultural chemicals, further exacerbating the problem.

However, the intended goal of the green revolution slogan was left unattained. This program implemented during the Ayub dictatorship led to the exacerbation of inequality, bolstered feudalism, degraded rural agricultural lands, and fostered a dependence on fertilizers. Regrettably, in its pursuit, the Green Revolution disregarded natural agricultural methods and fell short in its mission to alleviate poverty and hunger in Pakistan.

Subsequently, the turning point arrived with the eruption of the first significant public movement in Pakistan, which commenced in 1962 and culminated in the overthrow of the Ayub dictatorship. The subsequent Yahya dictatorship also faced public outcry, leading to its eventual demise. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, compelled by mounting public pressure, particularly evident in the Toba Tek Singh Kisan Conference on March 23, 1970, where millions of farmers voiced their concerns, embarked on agrarian reforms in 1972. As a result of these reforms, land was redistributed among farmers, including those who were small-scale and landless, ultimately fostering a more equitable distribution.

The lessons from history should serve as a warning against blindly adopting similar models. Despite the lofty promises of agricultural development, the “Khanewal Model Agriculture Farm” appears to be a continuation of the flawed approach of handing over government lands to capitalists and landlords. This approach perpetuates the concentration of wealth and power in the hands of a few, leaving the majority of small-scale farmers and landless individuals to suffer.

Similarly, proponents of the Green Revolution today echo the rhetoric once championed by the Ayub dictatorship. They advocate for land division among farmers and landless individuals as a means to uplift the nation from poverty. However, this call rings hollow when juxtaposed with the reality of powerful landlords securing government lands under the guise of embracing new technology. A notable example is the recently established farm in Khanewal, sprawling over 90 square meters of land, with its owner displaying an insatiable appetite for even more land.

It becomes evident that the capitalist and feudal elite of Pakistan remain incapable of effectively addressing the core challenges faced by the nation. The complexities of poverty, inequality, and sustainable development cannot be resolved by their conventional approach. Instead, the path towards resolution lies in the principles of food sovereignty, agroecology, and fostering a spirit of cooperative solidarity.

Curiously, in the current landscape, a so-called “second green revolution” is unfolding, albeit with a questionable agenda. Government lands are being relinquished to capitalists under the banner of corporate farming, a move that raises eyebrows and prompts concern. These capitalists, driven by profit motives, are set to transform these lands into housing societies and other commercial ventures. This maneuver threatens to exacerbate existing issues rather than usher in a genuine agricultural revolution.

As the nation grapples with its economic challenges and social disparities, the insistence on repeating past mistakes in the name of progress seems ill-fated. A more prudent approach necessitates a departure from the status quo, emphasizing equitable land distribution, sustainable farming practices, and a commitment to the well-being of all citizens. Only through such transformative measures can Pakistan truly pave the way for a prosperous and inclusive future.

This approach is poised to yield anything but an agricultural revolution. Instead, the consequence may entail a surge in the costs of food and agricultural goods, contributing to the exacerbation of inequality and a deepening of class oppression.

For a true agricultural revolution to transpire, a paradigm shift is imperative. Government-owned lands must be allocated to small and landless farmers, who are the lifeblood of rural communities. The state’s active participation in aiding these farmers in settling the land is crucial, fostering a fair and inclusive distribution process. Addressing the colossal landholdings of landlords is another vital step, where thousands of acres need to be restructured and confined to prevent a concentration of wealth. The cap of 25 acres on fertile land ownership would further contribute to a balanced and just distribution.

Considering the historical inability of capitalist forces to steer the nation toward development, it begs the question: What can be expected now? The trajectory appears to widen the existing bottleneck rather than dismantling it. If substantive progress is to be achieved, breaking free from the chains of imperialist loans is essential. Redirecting financial resources toward the welfare of the people holds the potential to initiate genuine change.

Central to this transformation is the implementation of comprehensive agrarian reforms. The distribution of both government and privately-owned vast tracts of land to small and landless farmers becomes pivotal. Such reforms are not only conducive to agricultural advancement but also lay the foundation for robust industrial growth.

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