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The Express Tribune

Published Date: Jun 25, 2013

Equitable distribution: ‘Restructuring land ownership key to alleviating poverty’

Land
reforms, especially assets creation for landless peasants, are fundamental to
poverty alleviation, while public debate on the 1989 court judgment declaring
these reforms as un-Islamic must be generated. This was the crux of a seminar,
titled, "Addressing the Inequality Gap: A Dialogue of Land Rights" on Monday.

The
discussion was jointly organised by the South Asia Partnership-Pakistan and
Sustainable Policy Development Institute.

The
speakers said there was a strong correlation between poverty and land holdings,
in that poverty increases as land ownership decreases. Some estimates suggest
that around half of all rural households own no land while the top five per
cent own over one-third of all cultivated land.

This
may explain why around 40 per cent of Pakistanis live in poverty, said panelist
and agri-economist Akmal Hussain.

"Poverty
is the biggest injustice," he said. "Is it un-Islamic to want to end it by
restructuring land ownership?"

The
speakers said that support prices benefited large landowners while tenant
farmers had neither the incentive nor the capacity to increase their
productivity. They stressed on the need for agricultural policies to focus on
small farmers.

Hussain
said 57 per cent of poor farmers who owed money to landowners cultivated land
for free while 14 per cent did the same for just Rs28 per day. He said the
Pakistani state had 2.6 million acres of cultivable land which if divided into
five-acre lots could create assets for 58 per cent of the country’s 897,000
tenant farmers.

The
remaining 42 per cent could be given loans to purchase their own land through a
fund that Hussain estimated would be worth around Rs4 billion.

He
said that a Small Farmer Development Corporation — an enterprise wherein small
farmers are shareholders — could be created to provide technical services to
farmers.

Earlier,
Lahore University of Management Sciences Associate Professor Faisal Bari had
said that interest groups who were against land reforms were merely using the
excuse of a Supreme Court (SC) Shariat Appellate Bench judgment that had
declared land reforms un-Islamic and resulted in the cancellation of the 1977
Land Reforms Act.

Bari
said the judgment did not provide many arguments against land reforms except
that Islam had not imposed an upper limit on land holdings and that the state
should provide compensation for acquiring land.

On
the other hand, he added, land reforms were important for social and market
reforms. In 2011, the Workers Party Pakistan, now the Awami Workers Party, had
filed a petition in the SC for land reforms in Pakistan and tied it in with a
separate petition on electoral reforms. The apex court passed a judgment in
favour of electoral reforms but the land reforms case is still ongoing.

The
participants pointed out that Egypt and Indonesia had also undergone land
reforms without concerns from religious scholars. They said Pakistan should
learn from agricultural best practices in India while land reforms should
entail a gender component wherein new land holdings are handed over to women
farmers.