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The Express Tribune

Published Date: Mar 2, 2013

When cities feed whole villages

In
a cramped two bedroom house in Dalmia, Karachi, Asadullah Sheikh lives with his
5 children, mother and wife. This is his sixth year in Karachi. Previously,
Shaikh was a smallholder farmer and owned 11 acres of land in Sajawal.

The
artificial price hike of agricultural lands between 2005 and 2007 tempted
Shaikh – like many other farmers- to move to the city. He sold his land, got
enough money to buy a motor cycle, paid his debts, set up a small kiryana store
and made Karachi his home. “My 11 acres are lying uncultivated,” he says with a
tinge of remorse. Sheikh is one of those who form Pakistan’s growing urban
population, making Pakistan a country with a very rapid urbanisation rate.

A
2008 report by UN Population Fund reported that the share of the urban
population in Pakistan almost doubled from 17.4 per cent in 1951 to 32.5 per
cent in 1998.

More
than 60% of the population of urban Sindh lives in Karachi, which according to
a “City Mayors 2011 survey” has become one of the largest cities in the world
with a population of 15.5 million, with other estimates claiming it may be 18
million.

Karachi
is just a case in point. Eight key cities in Pakistan are caving under the
burden of high-density concentration of population. At the same time, it is
becoming tougher for Pakistan’s farmers to continue to live in rural areas and
survive on agriculture. According to Dr Vaqar Ahmed of the Sustainable
Development Policy Institute, a lot has to do with untargeted government
subsidies for products consumed in urban areas such as wheat, sugarcane and
rice. “What a farmer produces fetches a low price. But what a worker in an
urban area produces fetches better returns. Moving to cities is an attractive
option. The urban sprawl is very market driven.”

While
city-dwellers complain about how cities are becoming crowded, the reasons for
this urbanisation are hardly understood. Tariq Bucha, President of Pakistan
Farmer’s Association, while talking to The Express Tribune, says that 85 to 87%
farmers of Pakistan live below the subsistence level, which means they own less
than 12 and a half acres. “Inheritance laws are an important factor here. Every
time a person dies, his lands are divided into smaller shares among his
children. Small pieces of land are economically unviable. In an absence of a
marketing infrastructure and access for our farmers, the most attractive option
for them is to sell the 3 to 4 acres they have, and move,” said Bucha.

In
the 36th Governing Council of the United Nations International Fund for
Agricultural Development (IFAD), held in Rome in February, agency President
Kanayo Nwanze reminded partners that a boom in agriculture can prompt twice
more growth in an economy.

“The
emergence of higher and more volatile food prices, combined with dramatic
droughts, floods, and famines, have concentrated world attention on the
question of how to feed a global population that is over 7 billion and growing.
Today, agriculture is centre stage,” Nwanze said.

Urban
food choices and migration – the missing link

In
2008, the world’s urban population exceeded its rural population for the first
time. UN projections suggest that the world’s urban population will grow by
more than a billion people between 2010 and 2025, while the rural population
will hardly grow at. According to the research paper “Urbanisation and its
implications for food and farming” (David Satterthwaite, Gordon McGranahan and
Cecilia Tacoli), it is likely that the proportion of the global population not
producing food will continue to grow, as will the number of middle and upper
income consumers whose dietary choices are more energy- and greenhouse gas
emission-intensive (and often more land-intensive) and where such changes in
demand also bring major changes in agriculture and in the supply chain.

While
urbanisation is seen as a sign of progress, this research says that with
urbanization, there will be rising demands for meat, dairy products, vegetable
oils and ‘luxury’ foods, and this implies more energy-intensive production and,
for many nations, more imports. Also, dietary shifts towards more processed and
pre-prepared foods, in part in response to long working hours and, for a
proportion of the urban population, with reduced physical activity, affects the
agricultural supply chain.

“This
trans-shifting has effects on demand of crops. Who eats jawaar (millet) and
baajra (sorghum) now? We are moving away from organic food to synthetics,” says
Bajwa, commenting on how city dwellers’ food choices indirectly result in mass
exodus from villages to cities.