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BR Research

Business Recorder

Published Date: Oct 3, 2014

Land reforms and literacy

Land reforms keep popping up in drawing room conversations. But for a host of reasons the impact of Pakistan ‘s yesteryear land reforms still appears unclear, which makes it difficult to have an informed discourse on the subject.

To begin with, the third and last round of comprehensive land reforms (1977) couldn ‘t be implemented – so one cannot really say that reforms have been good or bad per se. Then, inadequate data on land titles, population, and social indicators make pre- and post-reform analysis a difficult task.

However, available research does point out at literacy gains in an area where land reforms were undertook. In their 1997 research paper “Landed Power and Rural Schooling in Pakistan”, Shahrukh Rafi of SDPI and Rehana Siddiqui of PIDE used land ownership data from the 1980s and noted that the presence of very large landlords in a village was inversely associated with mean educational attainment in that village.

More quantifiable evidence is also available. In their study, “Impact of Ownership and Concentration of Land on Schooling”, SPDCs Haroon Jamal and Amir Jahan Khan wrote in The Lahore Journal of Economics [10: 2 (Winter 2005)]:

“… Holding district development constant, a ten percent decrease in inequality of land ownership (in Sindh and Punjab) is associated with an increase of 1 year of schooling – on the average a decrease of Gini from 0.54 to 0.49 will have an increase from 6 to 7 years of schooling. Similar interpretations are also visible regarding tenant households and households with no access to land… The gender disaggregation of SLE (school life expectancy) suggests significant improvement in female enrollment in the absence of landlordism or lesser
land concentration…”

There is some evidence from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa as well. A group of researchers from Agriculture University Peshawar and University of Peshawar conducted a survey of 160 respondents (which included tenants, owner-cultivator, as well as landlords) in three villages of Mardan in 2009 and found out that almost 100 percent of the tenants felt empowered
to make their own decisions after the land reforms. Presenting the findings in their paper, “Measuring the impact of land reforms on the farming community in district Mardan,” [Naushad Khan et al., Sarhad J. Agric. Vol.25, No.4, 2009], the researchers noted:

“The findings reflect that a good number i.e. 58 percent of the respondents were literate against below 10 percent in 1960s; presumably as a positive effect of the land reforms… Resultantly in the period prior to land reforms the study area had no school, while in the post-era a large number of public and private schools are found… Among
total respondents, 35% has obtained primary level education, 21% middle, 14% secondary, 9% intermediate, 14% graduate and 7% post-graduate (education)…”

They also concluded that the literacy gains corresponded with a visible improvement in yield per acre as well. “The project area is well
known for its fertility and production of good quality wheat, maize, sugarcane, barley and fruits…. Average yield per acre of wheat has increased by 20 maund in irrigated and by 10 maund in un-irrigated area.
Maize yield per acre has doubled and so is the sugarcane producing 232 maund per acre.”

It seems that the positive relationship between land reforms and
literacy has also been experienced in the region. In their 2006 research paper “Land Reform, Decentralized Governance and Rural Development in West Bengal,” US-based Indian Professors Pranab Bardhan and Dilip Mookherjee noted that between 1978 and 1998, illiteracy had dropped from 44.1 percent to 31.9 percent for small households (landless
or marginal landowners) and from 4 percent to 3.2 percent for big households, in sample villages.

Meanwhile, the think-tanks in Pakistan have also been advocating
the causal link. For instance, an SDPI policy brief, “The Case for Land
and Agrarian Reforms in Pakistan” concludes that “Mean educational attainment is inversely associated with absolute landed power. Thus, land reform would directly impact poverty by providing a means of sustainable livelihood, but also indirectly, by removing an impediment to educational attainment.”

The evidence may not be conclusive enough due to the difficulties mentioned earlier, but it points towards a positive relationship between more equitable land distribution and literacy improvements in a given area.