Let them eat cake

The Pak Banker - - 4EDITORIAL - Zaigham Khan

Per­haps there is no sin­gle pro­fes­sional class more use­less in the mod­ern world - dom­i­nated by the neo-lib­eral econ­omy - than peas­ants. Ac­cord­ing to an an­thro­pol­o­gist, the world would barely no­tice if each and every peas­ant dis­ap­peared from the face of the earth one night.

In Pak­istan, how­ever, they serve a pur­pose - there is a whole class of scav­engers that feeds on their poverty and pow­er­less­ness. As the Sharif model of de­vel­op­ment holds sway and agri­cul­ture fails, small farm­ers are fac­ing un­prece­dented hard­ships; and there is no light at the end of the tun­nel.

Ex­cept for a small num­ber of farm­ers who own large tracts of land, most agri­cul­tur­al­ists are strug­gling to sur­vive. How­ever, for small­hold­ers it is tough to feed their fam­i­lies and en­sure the bare min­i­mum ne­ces­si­ties of life. I am not talk­ing about small com­mu­ni­ties liv­ing some­where in Thar or in the Hi­malayas. There are 5.36 mil­lion mar­ginal farms that com­prise one hectare or less land ac­cord­ing to the agri­cul­ture cen­sus of 2010.

At­tach a fam­ily of eight per­sons to a farm and we find every fifth Pak­istani de­pend­ing on such a small farm for their liveli­hood. Even the own­ers of these farms are lucky. One notch be­low them are the land­less share­crop­pers, daily wage labour­ers and ar­ti­sans, fac­ing even tougher con­di­tions. Ac­cord­ing to some es­ti­mates, 67 per­cent of those in the ru­ral pop­u­la­tion own no land in Pak­istan.

There is noth­ing new about trans­fer of re­sources from the poor to the rich, from agri­cul­ture to the in­dus­trial sec­tor and from the poorer ar­eas to the more de­vel­oped dis­tricts in Pak­istan. De­spite the funny claims made in our text­books that our coun­try is a wel­fare state, Pak­istan was born as an elit­ist state - and it re­mains one. The Sharif model of de­vel­op­ment has only taken these time­honoured, warped pri­or­i­ties to new heights with an ut­ter dis­re­gard for the plight of the poor and less de­vel­oped ar­eas. The farm­ers who came to protest in La­hore re­cently must have been im­pressed to see how the cap­i­tal of Pak­istan's largest prov­ince has been trans­formed. A se­nior PML-N leader told me re­cently that the chief min­is­ter has a vi­sion to turn the city into a Sin­ga­pore. Con­sid­er­ing a city as the centre and the rest of the coun­try as the pe­riph­ery is a cen­turies-old im­pe­rial model.

As Amir Taimoor (Tamer­lane) told Hafiz Shi­razi, he had dev­as­tated half of the world to make two cities - Sa­markand and Bukhara - the envy of the world. (The poet, in one of his pop­u­lar ghaz­als, had promised to give away both the cities to his beloved as a trib­ute to the beauty of a mole on her cheek). As more than half of the prov­ince's budget is di­verted to de­velop one city, the poor­est seg­ments of so­ci­ety and the poor­est re­gions of the prov­ince are pay­ing for the im­pe­rial fan­tasies of the rul­ing fam­ily.

For farm­ers sor­rows have come in bat­tal­ions. Even as farm pro­duc­tiv­ity has de­clined due to high in­put prices and cli­mate change, com­mod­ity prices have also col­lapsed. Farm­ers all over the coun­try speak of cli­mate change and its dis­as­trous con­se­quences on farm­ing. Ac­cord­ing to Dr Mohsin Iqbal, di­rec­tor of the Global Im­pact Study Centre at Quaid-e-Azam Univer­sity, the pro­duc­tion of wheat could drop 10 to 20 per­cent while pro­duc­tion of rice could drop 15 to 18 per­cent due to cli­mate change. Ex­perts fear that cli­mate change can have a se­ri­ous im­pact on live­stock as well.

Such a sit­u­a­tion re­quires a ro­bust re­sponse from the gov­ern­ment in the form of re­search on adap­ta­tion, and shar­ing the re­sults of the re­search and in­no­va­tion with farm­ers through effective agri­cul­ture ex­ten­sion ser­vices. How­ever, agri­cul­ture de­part­ments are amongst the most neg- lected, un­der-re­sourced and in­ef­fi­cient in all the prov­inces. A huge con­fu­sion pre­vails in the gov­ern­ment since the Min­istry of Food and Agri­cul­ture that was re­spon­si­ble mainly for pol­icy for­mu­la­tion, eco­nomic co­or­di­na­tion, and plan­ning with re­spect to food grains and agri­cul­ture was de­volved to prov­inces as a re­sult of the 18th Amend­ment.

In­vest­ment in agri­cul­ture re­search has gone down and of­fi­cials of the ex­ten­sion de­part­ments can al­ways be found at the farms of po­lit­i­cally in­flu­en­tial agri­cul­tur­ists or push­ing the prod­ucts of pri­vate com­pa­nies. The col­lu­sion be­tween in­dus­try and gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials has re­sulted in low qual­ity, ex­pen­sive in­puts for farm­ers, par­tic­u­larly seeds and pes­ti­cides.

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