By Aamir Latif, IOL Correspondent
"The government has decided to raise a special security force, which will help create an investment-friendly atmosphere in the country," Minister Khan told IOL.ISLAMABAD -- A cash-strapped Pakistani government plans to sell or rent one million acre land to foreign countries for agricultural purposes in a bid to underpin the country’s troubled economy.
"This land will be provided to those countries which import agricultural commodities from other countries and are keen to procure land in developing states," Federal Minster for Investment Waqar Ahmad Khan told IslamOnline.net on Tuesday, April 21.
The proposed lands, watered by River Indus and three other rivers, are spread across the Asian Muslim country.
The minister said his government is offering various incentives to woo foreign countries.
"A complete legal cover will be provided to the investors so that even in case of the change of government, they should not be affected," he explained.
"The ministry will also ensure that all the machinery imported by investors for cultivation purposes, should be exempted from all kind of custom duties and taxes."
The minister stressed that his government is also ready to take special measures to improve the deteriorating security situation.
"We are fully aware of the fact that law and order plays a pivotal role to attract the foreign investment. Therefore the government has decided to raise a special security force, which will help create an investment-friendly atmosphere in the country."
The force will comprise 100,000 troops to provide security to foreign owners of local lands.
"We are hopeful to get foreign funding to raise this force," he said, estimating the cost at nearly 2 billion dollars.
Investment Minister Khan said several Arab Gulf countries, including Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Bahrain, have shown interest in buying lands in Pakistan.
"We have received a very positive response in this regard," he told IOL.
"Negotiations are underway with Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and UAE and agreements with these states will be signed soon."
A spokesman of the UAE embassy in Islamabad confirmed his country's interest in procuring land in Pakistan.
"We are interested in buying land in Pakistan and our talks with (Pakistani) officials are underway," he told IOL.
He said his country spends a huge amount of foreign reserves on procurement of wheat, rice, and other agriculture-related commodities annually.
"Pakistan has rich lands as far as agriculture potential is concerned. This will be a good opportunity for us to not merely save a huge amount annually but to cope with the food and agriculture requirements of the country," explained the spokesman.
Pakistan has been facing problems in cultivation of a huge area due to growing shortage of water, increasing power tariff and lack of advanced technology leaving a gap between demand and supply chain especially regarding wheat.
"We plan to set up several huge and small farmhouses in different parts of the country where we will grow wheat, rice, and corn."
Although the Gulf region is rich in oil and gas resources, the lack of rain makes large-scale food imports a necessity.
Gulf states reportedly import 80 percent of staple foods.
And the price of those imports has ballooned from $16 billion in 2006 to $20 billion in 2007, according to the Arab Organization for Agricultural Development.
The global food shortage has prompted many countries to grow their own food on land abroad, including Sudan, Brazil, Cambodia and Thailand.
Japan has bought up plots in Brazil and South Korea has bought large tracts in Madagascar.
Abu Dhabi is already toeing a project to develop nearly 30,000 hectares of farmland in Sudan in the first step towards ensuring food security.
"We are already running such projects in Egypt and Senegal, while a similar project is also being considered in Uzbekistan," said the embassy spokesman.
Under such deals, countries would grow corps and then ship them home, saving millions by bypassing world markets.
But the new trend, which has accelerated since 2007 and is poised to change global land ownership and agricultural production, has not gone criticism-free.
UN's Food and Agricultural Organization director-general Jacques Diouf has warned against creating a kind of food "neocolonialism," with rich countries securing food supplies at the expense of poor farmers.