Corporate farming raises concern among local growers

The News (Pakistan) January 28, 2009

By Shahid Shah

KARACHI: Local farmers have protested against the government’s initiative to invite foreign investors in corporate farming, thus allowing them to take 100 per cent of the yield.

Rabia Sultan, Director of Farmers Association of Pakistan (FAP) said Pakistan is already suffering from food shortage and imports wheat every year. “Foreign investors will take a further share from the country’s production and the food security situation will worsen,” she said.

According to Sultan, all other governments are protecting their growers but here farmers are being left to fend for themselves.

Last month, Federal Investment Minister, Waqar Ahmad Khan, said that the government would make sure the investors in corporate farming take the entire crop. “We are negotiating with investors from Gulf states, particularly Saudi Arabia, for investment in corporate farming. Investors will be ensured repatriation of 100 per cent crop yield to their countries, even in the case of food deficit,” he said last month (in a story published in The News).

Qamar-uz-Zaman Shah, Chairman Sindh Chamber of Agriculture, was critical of this statement saying that this would not be allowed at any cost. Shah said the government held meetings with farmer unions, who felt that this initiative would encroach upon the rights of farmers along with causing issues of land ownership. “The farm will serve like a company and the local growers will be like small shareholders. We won’t be able to get a loan or grow our fruits and vegetables,” Shah said.

Shah said that the share of locals in corporate farms is negligible and they will be left at the mercy of investors. And just like in the stock market, these investors are not likely to always declare a profit.

Corporate farming involves cultivating huge farms with the extensive use of heavy machinery. United States and United Kingdom are the two major beneficiaries of this type of working; both countries have managed to increase their yield. Currently, there is no corporate farming in Pakistan.

The previous government had also initiated a plan to start corporate farming. In this regard, Chinese firms were being invited to work on the project. In fact, the NWFP government had also announced corporate farming sites at Kohat, Dera Ismail Khan, Bannu and Lachhi. However, Pakistan Kissan Ittehad opposed this proposal and the government stopped work on the plan. The current government has started work on the project again.

Jan Nisar Khalil, President Pakistan Kissan Ittehad, told The News that under such a proposal, the government would exempt foreign investors from land and water taxes and there would be no one to keep a check on them. “If you are giving all these facilities to foreigners, why can’t they do the same for the local people?” he asked.

Growers are also concerned that the use of excessive machinery would harm the land. Khalil said that the after effects of corporate farming would spread far, up to five kilometers in the surrounding areas. The heavy machinery and fertiliser would eat up the rich soil, added Khalil.

Others, however, feel that some good may come out of corporate farming. “If the government assures food security, prior to inviting investors, it will work, said Ibad-ul-Rehman Khan, member FAP. In fact, proponents of this type of farming said that if the government allowed it in pockets of up to 1,000 acres in different parts of the country for a lease up to 20 years, it would be helpful. This would help local growers to learn about the techniques that can increase yield.

Rehman also said that Pakistan is among the few countries in the world that produce enough food, but it is sheer mismanagement that causes it to import wheat.

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