by AMAR GURIRO
KARACHI - As small-scale farmers across the world observed the Global Day of Peasant Struggle on Tuesday, civil society activists also turned up for a gathering in Hyderabad to commemorate the murder of 19 landless Brazilian farmers in 1996.
Led by La Via Campisina – an international network of peasants movements – the peasant struggle day is observed to remember the massacre of farmers demanding access to land and justice in Brazil 16 years ago.
About 250 events are held across the world and the main theme of this year’s day for peasants was “land grabbing”.
It is believed that land grabbing of agricultural lands in the suburbs of Karachi is the biggest reason behind most targeted killings in the metropolis and there are rising concerns of land being leased to corporate companies in rural Sindh.
In Hyderabad, the members of Society for Conservation and Protection of Environment (SCOPE), International Land Coalition (ILC) and National Peasants Coalition of Pakistan (NPCP) or Pakistan Kisan Sangat observed the day.
Speakers at the event criticised the government’s corporate agriculture farming policy and termed it against food security of the country. “The freehand given by the government to corporate agri-farming is against the livelihood of peasants, as it will give a golden opportunity to the landlords to avoid land reforms.”
They said that land grabbing is a new trend in Asia, Africa and Latin America. The corporate sector is buying and leasing huge tracts of land to grow food, fibre and biofuel.
Pakistan has also announced an investment policy which is encouraging the corporate sector to engage vast lands in all four provinces of Pakistan on very easy terms.
SCOPE CEO Tanveer Arif said that it is a myth that corporate farming is highly productive. It proves costly due to the high costs of farm inputs and also degrades the soil.
Sindh has the highest incidence of absolute landlessness, with 26 percent or two million households not having any land, while 80 percent of tenants are landless.
Twenty-six percent of 700,000 households possess the lowest share. A majority of the rural people have agriculture as their major source of livelihoods in Sindh.
The sector employs 13.46 million people with 7.74 million in rural and 5.72 million urban workforce, but for the majority, working arrangements in agriculture wage work, tenant farming, share cropping are either exploitative or yield little earnings.
Supporting land reforms, renowned peasant activist Taj Marri said that Punjab and India are ahead in food production because of small farms, which are owned by farmers, as compared to large farms owned by absentee landlords.
Appreciating the formation of NPCP, Zulfiqar Halepoto said that it was the need of the time to form this coalition to engage government and stakeholders in order to move towards land reforms and equitable pro-poor development of agri-society in Sindh and Pakistan.
Nazir Qureshi paid tribute to Hayder Bux Jatoi and Fazil Raho for their struggle for the rights of peasants in Sindh. She mentioned the famous slogan of peasants “Jo Khere Wo Khaay”.
NPCP General Secretary Noor Nabi described the process of formation of Pakistan Kisan Sangat, which was formed after national level consultations.
Civil society activist Waheed Jamali appreciated that Pakistan Kisan Sangat celebrated the international peasants’ day in order to engage the civil society of Pakistan
In the end, the NPCP released an Open Letter addressed to political parties and stakeholders, demanding that new land and agrarian reforms be introduced in the country.
The coalition also demanded that all major political parties must clearly express their commitment about land reforms programme in Pakistan and include equitable, effective land and agrarian reforms in their election manifestos.
“A comprehensive land and agrarian reforms programme should be introduced in Pakistan with immediate effect which is based on pro-poor, pro-peasant, equity and gender justice principles and the verdict of Shariat Bench of Supreme Court, during Ziaul Haq’s rule declaring land reforms against Islamic principles, should be revoked with immediate effect,” it was demanded in the letter.
The landless women should be given priority in land redistribution programmes and all discriminatory legal and cultural practices that prevent women’s right to own agricultural land and be recognised as a farmer should be declared illegal.
Women should also be recognised as farmers and not just as farm workers.
The NPCP also demanded for a new ministry for food security and research, with the land related issues as the priority area of work for the minister.