PAKISTAN: Putting land reforms on political agenda 

Representatives of the leading parliamentary parties and civil society bodies have called for land reforms to get rid of the country’s colonial economic power structure. They urged political parties to include land reforms in their election manifestoes

At a seminar titled, ‘Where are Land Reforms on Political Agenda in Pakistan?’, they, along with land reforms experts, strongly articulated that effective land reforms were critical for sustainable food security, increased farm productivity, poverty alleviation and overall socio-economic uplift.

The seminar was organised by Society for Conservation and Protection of Environment in collaboration with Oxfam International, Land Watch Asia, International Land Coalition, National Peasants Coalition (Pakistan) and Pakistan Kisan Sangat.

About two-fifths of the labour is engaged with agriculture, which contributes to one-tenth of GDP. Farmland is not just an economic commodity; it is also a source of social and political power. Land ownership is highly skewed.

Around half of all rural households do not own any land, and the top five per cent own over a 1/3rd of all cultivated area. Gross inequality of land ownership is major cause of poverty and backwardness.

Large farms have approached the maximum yield per acre with the available technology. Further growth in agricultural production depends on raising the yield per acre of smaller farms.

The small-farm sector, potential yield of which remains to be fully utilised constitutes a substantial part of the agrarian economy. Small farms (less than 25 acres) constitute 88 per cent of the total number of all agricultural farms, and 57 per cent of total farm area. The 54 per cent of the total farm area in the small-farm sector is cultivated by tenant or share-croppers. Since tenants lose half of any increase in output to the landlord, they lack the incentive to invest in technology, which would raise yields. Because of their weak financial and social position they also lack the ability to make such investment.

Tenants’ ability to invest in the land is further eroded by a nexus of social and economic dependence on the landlord, which deprives the tenant of much of his earnings that could be invested.

Thus the objective of raising yields in the small-farm sector is dependent on removal of the institutional constraints to growth arising out of tenancy.

The corporate agriculture farming (CAF) policy announced during the Musharraf regime can only fuel economic and food insecurity. Corporate farming will displace farm labour and further marginalise their livelihoods.

Corporate farming is about land and virtual water grabbing in the form of agricultural produce to be exported. In other words, CAF is about export of virtual water which is basis of our food security.

A land and agrarian reform programme that promises to give land to the tiller is an essential step in providing small farmer with both the incentive and the ability to raise his/her yields.

Land reforms are required not only to accelerate agricultural growth, but to prevent the developing social crisis associated with the poverty and disempowerment of peasantry in the rural society.

Land reforms are an unfinished agenda. Pakistan has experienced three attempts of ineffective land reforms in 1959, 1972 and 1977. Redistributive land reforms (state’s takeover of land from large landowners and its allotment to the landless farmers) did not achieve a great deal due to the political power wielded by the landowning classes.

Unfortunately in 1977, General Ziaul Haq toppled the civil government, and during his tenure a Shariat bench of Supreme Court of Pakistan upheld an appeal to declare land reforms against Shariat.

Mr Abid Hassan Minto, Chairman of Workers Party, Pakistan, along with other political leaders and social activists, has moved the Supreme Court of Pakistan to challenge this verdict.

In Pakistan, the power of feudal has acted as a barrier to social and economic progress of the rural society. Genuine land reforms can help solve the problems as farmers often use relatively inefficient capital-intensive techniques due to distorted market prices and small farmers do not have access to the liberal credit subsidies on imported machinery and capital equipment.

Civil society organisations which are working on land and agrarian reforms have urged political parties and stakeholders that a new land and agrarian reforms be introduced. With general elections round the corner, it is time to lobby with mainstream political parties to look at the land reforms agenda.

All major political parties should commit and include equitable, effective land, agrarian and pro-poor reforms in their election manifesto.

The verdict of Shariat Bench which declared land reforms against Islamic principles should be reviewed and revoked through a legislation. Landless women should be given priority in land re-distribution programme and all discriminatory legal and cultural practices should be abandoned which prevent women’s property rights.

Land ownership ceiling should be fixed with an appropriate size on family basis for which necessary legislation should be introduced. The land recovered from large land owners should be distributed among landless peasants who have been working there with proper legal titles.

The existing provincial tenancy acts should be changed to allow agricultural workers to establish unions, demand fair wages and receive land titles supporting their legal rights to the land.

Legal mechanisms should also be put in place to adjudicate complaints and resolve conflicts.

All laws and regulations regarding land developed under colonial era should be abandoned and a judicial commission on land utilisation should be formed to check excessive commercialisation of land.

The agricultural land occupied by or allotted to military farms and government departments should be revoked and distributed among the landless peasants.

Corporate forming should not be promoted under the current policy framework. There must be a new legal framework which must ensure food security, abiding labour laws and a ceiling limit over land.

Allotment of forest land to the influential persons should be revoked and re-allotted to the peasants on the condition of re-forestation. The occupied surveyed or un-surveyed lands must be re-surveyed and distributed among the landless peasants and agriculture workers.

Equitable distribution of water at the tail-end is imperative. To avoid water logging and salinity, canals, branches and watercourses should be lined. The government must draw up an agriculture policy in consultation with agriculture scientists, peasants, farm workers and growers.

About the Author: Mr Zulfiqar Halepoto is a writer and civil rights activist based in Hyderabad, Pakistan. He is currently in Hong Kong on a research engagement with the AHRC and can be contacted at

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Document Type : Forwarded Article
Document ID : AHRC-FAT-047-2012
Countries : Pakistan,
Issues : Land rights,