By Amena Bakr
DUBAI: Pakistan dramatically increased the amount of farmland open to foreign investors to six million acres, but will require outsiders to share half of their crop with local growers, Pakistan’s investment minister told Reuters.
Crop sharing will defuse tensions with local farmers fearful of being crowded out by wealthy foreigners as Pakistan opens existing farmland to outsiders for sale or long-term lease, said Minister of Investment Waqar Ahmed Khan.
Gulf Arab countries reliant on food imports have ramped up efforts over the last year to buy land in developing nations ranging from Pakistan to the Philippines and Ethiopia.
‘We expect the investors in farmland to give the local farmers 50 per cent of the land’s yield, in addition transferring the technology which will help increase the output of the land by three times,’ Khan said during a trip to the United Arab Emirates to rally investor support.
‘We have to apply these regulations to support the interests of the local farmers, otherwise we will be facing objections from the farmers, and we need to keep them happy,’ he added.
Farmers’ concerns have led the eastern Pakistan province of Baluchistan to block direct deals between private investors based in the United Arab Emirates and farmers, Nasir Khosa, general chief-secretary of Baluchistan’s provincial government, said last month.
The United Nation’s Human Right Council has expressed concern over the sale of farmland and called for a code of conduct.
‘We will do everything to protect farmers’ interests,’ said Khan. Last month, Khan said the country had a million acres of farmland to offer to investors.
‘Recently, we have been able to indentify around six million acres of farmland in various parts of the country which can be leased out on long-term basis or sold,’ he said.
During Pakistan’s Gulf farmland sale road show, which started last week, a lot of interest came from UAE investors, especially in acquiring farmland to produce animal feed and rearing livestock, said Amjad Nazir, the joint secretary at Pakistan’s Ministry of Food and Agriculture.
‘All week we had meetings with investors from both the private and the public sector and I think very soon we will be sending delegations to study the opportunities here,’ said Nazir.
Emirates Investment Group, a private-sector investment company based in Sharjah, the third-largest emirate of the UAE, said last month it was in the process of acquiring farmland in Pakistan to export more food to the Gulf region.Last year, private Abu Dhabi-based investment firm Al Qudra said it had plans to start agriculture projects in Pakistan.