Is Leasing Agricultural Land to Foreign Countries A Good Idea?

Posted on September 1, 2009
Filed Under >Owais Mughal, Economy & Development, Environment, Food, Foreign Relations
Total Views: 40985


Owais Mughal

News media is ripe with indications that Pakistan is leasing its agricultural land on long terms to Middle Eastern countries. Saudi Arabia and UAE are two countries whose names are mentioned in recent news. Since the Middle Eastern countries are mostly desert lands, they are trying to buy agriculture lands in other countries where they want to grow crops and take the produce home to feed their own population.

My quick question here is: Which land is going to feed Pakistani population then?

I am sure Pakistan will reap monetary benefits from any such lease of land but my concern with long term lease is what will happen few years down the road. There will be potentially millions of Pakistani to feed and our own agriculture land and archaic methods will not be enough to sustain local population’s food needs. And then in the middle of all this poverty there will be lush green pastures of foreign agricultural land; where all the latest methods of irrigation and agriculture will be used. The yields will be higher than ever but then all the food grown here will be taken away to foreign lands. Pakistan may have to buy back the food grown on its own land. For a short term monetary gain, I think this is a serious long term threat to our sovereignty. Doesn’t this situation reminds us of famous Allama Iqbal verse ‘jis khet se….’.

Over Reaction?

My paragraph above may seem over dramatization as one can argue what does it matter if we sold few acres of land here and there. To this I would say, my concern is for long term. Sale of few acres today can set the trend where more and more land will be bought by foreign countries. By the way few acres of today are not so few either. 500000 acres of agricultural land, located in all 4 provinces of Pakistan, is in negotiation with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Once this land is leased or sold, will we ever be financially strong enough to buy back this again? Looks difficult, right! That is my concern. 0.5 million acres of land leased today will be gone for 99 years with more and more acres to follow.

Can there be a win-win solution?

If a foreign country comes to Pakistan, invests in our irrigation system, teaches local farmers methods of improved agriculture and buys produce from Pakistani farmers, then I believe it will be a better option than selling or leasing our land to other countries for short term profit.

Related News Story:

Here is a recent Dawn news story on the subject:

DUBAI: Saudi Arabia is in talks with Pakistan to lease an area of farmland nearly twice the size of Hong Kong in a bid to ensure food security, an official from Pakistan’s ministry of agriculture said on Tuesday. Gulf Arab states, heavily reliant on food imports and spurred on by a spike in prices of basic commodities, have raced to buy farmland in developing nations to guarantee supplies.

Over the past few weeks the Saudi government has been in talks with us to lease 500,000 acres (202,400 hectares) of farmland and we are currently in the process of locating which land we could give them, Tauqir Ahmad Faiq, regional secretary at the ministry of agriculture, said in an interview. In April, Pakistan said it would offer foreign investors one million acres of farmland for lease or sale and deploy special security forces to protect it. The land we will provide Saudi Arabia will be divided among the four provinces and they will be using it to grow a variety of produce such as wheat, fruits and vegetables, Faiq said by telephone from Lahore.

We are expecting a Saudi delegation to arrive after the month of Ramadan to further discuss the deal and see the land, but there is no set date when the deal will be signed. Saudi Arabia, which consumes 2.6 million tonnes of wheat a year, is abandoning a project to produce the grain domestically as water supplies run dry. Faiq said Pakistan had been approached by other Gulf players. “We have also received offers from a Qatari private investor to buy land, but nothing is final yet,” he said. He declined to give further details.

Critics have accused wealthy nations of making land grabs in developing countries and there has been increasing opposition to such deals from farming communities. In April, concerns over farmers’ rights led the government of Pakistan’s Balochistan province to block direct deals between United Arab Emirates-based private investors and farmers. The United Nations expressed concern in April that farmers’ rights in developing nations could be compromised as rich countries buy farmland. -Reuters

Photo Credits: Ameer Hamza and travel1jc

Article on Relevant Topic: ATP contributor Roshan Malik writes on Corporate Agricultutal Farming (CAF).

74 Comments on “Is Leasing Agricultural Land to Foreign Countries A Good Idea?”

  1. Gardezi says:
    September 2nd, 2009 12:57 am

    I did not realize this was happening.

    How can we let this happen. How can we just give away our land to another country and that to the best land on such long leases.

    Is this just like invading a country, only just buying off leaders rather than spend money on invasion armies!

  2. Orca says:
    September 2nd, 2009 1:02 am

    This might be a bad thing later on… who knows. But it will mean greater diplomatic clout when it comes to “negotiating” with our neighbors over water sharing rights.

  3. Raheel says:
    September 2nd, 2009 1:11 am

    “Qoumai Farokhtand Wa Cha Arzan Farokhtand”

  4. Owais Mughal says:
    September 2nd, 2009 1:13 am

    @Orca. This water rights angle is interesting. I didn’t think about it until i read your comment. I do see your point. My concern will be the price at which it will come. try getting river water but lose land?

  5. September 2nd, 2009 1:22 am

    Some comments from the ATP Facebook page:

    - “No it is not a good idea at all. Why should give our agricultural land to Saudi Arabia when our own people are so much in need of it. This does not make sense at all.”
    - “not at all…. it is a threat to our future generations.”
    - “We cry hoarse about sovereignty all the time and on something as important as land just let the Saudis take it away like that. Pathetic.”
    - “Please thank the present government for trying to sell off the country in every which way it is possible. You voted for them.”
    - “No, this negotiation was actually started and formalized by Musharraf. he actually suggested it to the Saudis and to Dubai. In fact, the only deals formalized are with Dubai and they were all done by Musharraf.”
    - “All Hail Zardara”
    - “yeah its good to give them arid and remote places where we r unable to work but that least must not be more than 33 years. its a nice idea. they are not supposed to do anything else but agri farming. And must use our man power from top to bottom”
    - “Leasing land to Saudi Arabia will generate the necessary cash-flow, employment and general good-will. I do not see anything wrong with this approach. Plus the Saudis will not take the land to Saudi Arabia or declare it Saudi Arabia here!”
    - “we didnt vote for this continuity we voted for a change.. bt oblivious of the fact that our politicians have learnt nothing from the past.but afsos they are the same politicians of 90s and 70s.keep high hopes our Nation is aware we r no more puppets InshAllah.”
    - “Its a very well planned n thought ideo of robbing our dear homeland of its precious resources.Saudi Arabians will obviously take the revenue back to KSA n the advantage they’ll have here will be that of very cheap cost of labour n raw material.Why not give our own deserving fellow nation-men give them their due?????????its a very rediculous n a very prepostrous idea!”

  6. Zafar says:
    September 2nd, 2009 1:23 am

    I wonder how they will find water, is it going to be free for them or they will wait for rain or we will make special canals for them and who will bear the cost and if at all the buyer bears the cost is it worthy enough to sell water which is already scarce when required.

    Which law will govern these lands and who will cultivate it, the labor will be hired from within the country and if so what kind of labor laws will govern those lands.

  7. Tehseen Baweja says:
    September 2nd, 2009 1:33 am

    I am not even worried about buying it back. What I am worried about is the East-India-Company strategy all over again. Right now its gulf countries, soon it’ll be US and UK.

    Did you guys miss the part that special forces would be deployed to protect these lands? Foreign countries can easily, after a few years, say that local protection is not adequate and bring their own men in.

    May be I am going too far, but I don’t like THIS MUCH foreign holding in Pakistan.

    Do we realize that mobile phones have become a backbone of our telecommunication and all 4 telecom giants are foreign companies. Namely Telenor (Norway), Mobilink (Egypt?), Zong (China) and Ufone (UAE). If someday they wake up and decide to abandon everything, our telecom would collapse overnight.

  8. September 2nd, 2009 2:00 am

    “If a foreign country comes to Pakistan, invests in our irrigation system, teaches local farmers methods of improved agriculture and buys produce from Pakistani farmers, then I believe it will be a better option than selling or leasing our land to other countries for short term profit.”

    This is the best solution.If our government has any brains they will do a deal that is a win win situation.We can lease them the land,but farmers should be local and there technology should be open to us.This way our agricultural industry will also progress.Otherwise we will still be using Oxs while our foreign friends are using most advanced agricultural methods.

  9. adeel says:
    September 2nd, 2009 2:14 am

    Well call me short-sighted but this sounds like a grand joke to me…

    Our population is set to double over the next 20-30 years. Our rivers are running dry as they are. Our crop yields are erratic at best. And we are already at our wit’s end to cater to the needs of the current populace.

    I mean if this goes through, it would give a whole new meaning to sovereignty trampling since we allowed drones to operate on our soil.

    I wonder what the mullah-mafia makes of this. Imagine if a European country (god forbid me to mention India, Israel, US) had made such a proposal.

  10. Shayan says:
    September 2nd, 2009 3:36 am

    Certainly not given all the reports that have surfaced of late about the immense water shortage we are going to face. I’m sure the Middle East can find other countries to purchase, we need our fields to feed our own people.

  11. sikander hayat says:
    September 2nd, 2009 4:42 am

    It is a very bad idea. If we have spare land than give it to the people of this country, the poor peasants who have been living for the day when they will be given the right of property of their own land.
    Please stop this land grab from happening as it is nothing but a form of neo colonialism even if perpetrated by Muslim countries.

  12. Sumair says:
    September 2nd, 2009 4:44 am

    where these hummers going to land ….

  13. manto says:
    September 2nd, 2009 4:56 am

    Have no problem with this…provided those guys are willing to lease us some of their oilfields in return!

  14. Adam Insaan says:
    September 2nd, 2009 5:20 am

    -It does not surprise me that much
    the pakistani air-space is being violated (or shall we say `leased

  15. Tina says:
    September 2nd, 2009 7:08 am

    Twenty acres of arable land with reliable water sources is going to be worth more than Ground Zero in downtown Manhattan in the future, all over the entire planet.

    In fact, we will see a reversal of the present trend (urban property being expensive vs. rural land being cheap). Urban and suburban real estate, commerical and residential, will collapse in value to some extent, while farmland of even marginal utility will increase greatly in value.

    The people who know this are buying farmland wherever they can. Pakistan is one such area. The Chinese are buying huge swaths of the arable parts of Africa and many nationalities are buying farmland in South America. The paritioning off of the earth’s food and water sources is happening now, and the big guns are getting in. There is no room for the little guy any more.

    Pakistan will lose its sovereignity in all but name only, and its people will be under heavy Arabic influence, although they will remain very poor. Some will say this has already happened.

    We can see from what is happening to Australia that the coming water crisis is going to be severe as the earth’s aquifiers and rivers are drained by its billions of thirsty people.

    The Indus will dry up as the demands placed on it become too great (think of the Colorado river in the U.S.) and the glacial melt accelerates.

    I believe that in less than a century those Pakistanis who have not made it out of Pakistan will be faced with sub-Saharan famine conditions, and will perish in the millions. Ditto North India. There will be several countries facing this scenario, including some developed ones (Australia, which is dying right now, will lead the pack).

    There is absolutely nothing to be done about this, since humans refuse to curb the growth of their population. Developed countries which are facing massive dieoffs due to natural aging (the best thing that could happen to the human race, really) are actually trying to increase their birth rates! I know there is an economic reason for this–but why is only Canada is attempting to remedy the imbalance through opening up immigration?

    All the others are offering financial incentives to the depressed, overworked people living in their crowded and polluted cities, hoping to entice them to have yet more babies. Even China wants to lift its one child policy. This makes no sense with a world full of hungry people anxious to work. Half the people in Iran and Mexico are under the age of 15. Why not send a couple of millions of them to, say, Tokyo or Rome?

    It makes sense only in the light of racist hubris (the new babies must be French, or Japanese, or so on. ) I live in Germany and they basically don’t want immigrants here. On the other hand, a German woman who has three German kids, even out of wedlock, need never work again. Her “kindergeld” alone is almost 500 euros a month, and that is only one of her cash benefits.

    We’re destroying the earth with this. It’s very sad. It makes no sense.

    Pakistan can sell its land to Saudi Arabia or not. It makes no difference. Either Saudis or Pakistani zamindars, or some other big absentee landowners with citizenship in another country (zamindars included in this description), will use the land and water until it is depleted. Rural flight to the Karachi slums will become a tidal wave of refugees, and then death will follow.

    The only way would be to save the villages. The govt. must remove the profit motive, institute land reforms that favor small holders, and teach those farmers to care well for their plots, esp. in the area of water management. Villages currently populated by debt enslaved sharecroppers and brick kiln workers who are selling their kidneys—each adult head of household should be given some acreage and taught how to use it, and given fair access to local and worldwide markets (through what we used to have in the States, called “pools”, a kind of co-op that gives the leverage of an economy of scale to groups of small farmers).

    But that will never happen. The trend is definitely not in that direction now.

    It’s too bad…I sort of like people, and think they deserve a better fate.

    Long post, kind of a rant, sorry…..but like I said, it sort of doesn’t matter whether you sell it to Saudi or not, anyway. The whole country of Pakistan would have to become modernized and developed in a totally new way (meaning not the labor-industrial model) for it to matter, and it just isn’t going to happen.

  16. Usman says:
    September 2nd, 2009 7:20 am

    It should be a good thing.
    The farming industry around the world has adopted new technologies and practices while we do not even have a concept of farming industry.
    Pakistan has quality agricultural land and very hard working farmers, but everyone has a small portion of land they cultivate on. Saudia and UAE has a enterprise like approach where they have large area of land which yeilds more production, they use sprinkels and latest technology which protect the farms and help increase production and they employee farmers which ensures that farmers will have earnings even if there is a desaster season.

    The practices they will bring will become a model for pakistanies and will help improve our farming industry, they will employee Pakistani farmers and as this will be a lease they will cultivate and improve the quality of our land and will be ours when lease expires.
    Plus there is alot of agricultural land in pakistan where no one is farming, why not make use of it!

    Question we should be asking is, how will they get water? In Saudia they treat sea water and make use of it, will they invest to do that in Pakistan?, if Yes, it will be excellent for Pakistan. Will the veges and fruits they grow be available to Pakistani market?, if yes, excellent as it will reduce the prices.
    Even if the answer to both the question is no, i believe we will still be in profit and not loosing anything.

  17. Hamid says:
    September 2nd, 2009 8:52 am

    Why doesn’t the Pakistani government ask Saudi Arabia to provide us conditional Agro-Technology investment for these 700,000 Acers of land?

    In return we provide food at a VERY subsidised cost.
    Oh I remember! That would mean us owning the technology, being able to profit from surplus growth and the food prices going down.

    Now why would we want that happening?

  18. aTii says:
    September 2nd, 2009 9:03 am

    Surely a sad thing, we have sold our souls, our dignity, our people, our air space and now our own land. Who is going to benefit from land leases? ofcourse the f***$$$ politicians and mofu forever landlords. Since govt. lacks solid planning to provide food and shelter to the needy for the next 20 years, I cannot agree less with Tina on famine and chaos in Pakistan. We may turn our faces away but we are already killing so many in Pakistan with contaminated water and hunger. What a shameful thing for all of us. Its very depressing, the world is surely going towards some kind of disaster.

  19. Aamir Ali says:
    September 2nd, 2009 9:36 am

    Pakistani land and Pakistani water should be used to grow food for Pakistanis, fot Arabs who got rich while doing nothing simply because oil was found in their backyard.

    Since the Saudis are rich, a demand by Pakistan should be that they setup a system wherein water from the ocean is brought in, purified in a water treatment plant they build on the farm, then piped to the farm. There is already scarcity of water in Pakistan.

    The only beneficiaris of this deal will be Saudis, govt officials and politicians,alongwith some workers who will get a petty wage.

  20. Yaqub Zuberi says:
    September 2nd, 2009 9:42 am

    I think people are getting overboard and a little emotional. This is going to happen whether you think it is good or not.

    This will frther increase the Saudiization of Pakistan. The Saudis have already been invading the minds of the young with their crazy religious extremism and their surrogates, the Taliban, are doing it by force. Now they will do it economically by literally buying up the country.

    Dark days are coming.

  21. September 2nd, 2009 9:47 am

    More comments from the ATP Facebook Page:

    - “We should start our own corporate agriculture rather to learn and see resources are thrown away”
    - “No it is not a good idea. This is land grabbing! ridiculous!”
    - “its natural…..! if u cant use ur resources then others will take away them. remember our islamic history HAZRAT KHALID BIN SAID(r.a) apart from message of islma we should attack on EGYPT bcz ARAB has nothing.”
    - “It is a serious matter. We can’t and shouldn’t let it happen.”
    - “What we should give is our politicians for free..”
    - “yes thats better for the country cuz the land which is not producing any thing will produce food for the people”
    - “why not? we put heavy tax on land and earn money – plus it will boost our agriculture and bring in new technology and irrigation – plus it will boost the local economy of the region – plus will employ our farmers in modern farms.
    The only downside is that like everything, there would be high commissions and kick backs and all the fat cats will get fatter. If done properly it can be a big advantage.”
    - “the punjab was the only part that handeld the whole subcontinent with all its production but now it cant serve only PAKISTAN. thats y others r coming to make it in full health as it was in history as they think we r useless”
    - “not at all….its like creating a mess of culture n givin the foriegners a luxury to become intruders n gradually owner of a separate country out of Pakistan as israel did… :(”
    - “give pakistan to saudia… zardari ahhh”
    - “NOOOOOOOO!”
    - “I personally dont think that saudi will ‘grab’ / ‘own’ pakistan. Maybe they can try this out for a little while and see how it goes?”
    - “haha!!wat sht..nt to saudia .give it to america. bst idea!!!!”
    - “its gud idea. it will create employment and bring in investment needed by many poor ppl in Pakistan. it has nothing to do with sovereignty of country at all. plus the land that will b giving on lease is not the land that is being cultivated right now or from last 60 years.”
    - “bt da govern. is nt strong if amera ll tke it on lease dn dey ll hve dere own rule on it.its nt ssoooo simple for us..”
    - “it is a great but uncomleted decision”
    - “nooo”

  22. Anwar says:
    September 2nd, 2009 9:54 am

    If land reforms were ever implemented, Pakistani farmers would have become more productive….

  23. Eidee Man says:
    September 2nd, 2009 9:59 am

    This is one of those issues which does not even need to be debated. It is not a bad idea, it is a massively horrible idea.

    After looting, plundering, investing zilch in infrastructure development, leaving farmers at the mercy of feudal landowners, and otherwise sucking the blood of the average man, the politicians want to go one step further and ensure a life of abject poverty and external reliance by auctioning off the last valuable entity in the country.

    I absolutely disagree with Usman; this “enterprise-like” approach is precisely what is so dangerous about what’s proposed. The idea that the rich oil barons who are building massive buildings on reclaimed land (ticking time-bombs) could teach the descendants of the Indus Valley civilization a thing or two about sustainable agriculture is utterly ridiculous.

    Sure, Saudi Arabia, UAE, etc should be concerned about feeding their populations. But they should do what every other country does: buy the food directly! Is there any precedent for foreign countries leasing land for farming purposes?

    Also, the hiring of security forces to protect the leased lands is deeply offensive. It seems like our sovereignty will soon be nothing more than a joke, seeing as we are ready to comply with any terms for the almighty dollar.

    If the dam projects have been the cause of so much debate, then these proposals should cause a major uproar.

    Lastly, I see a lot of hypocrisy in the Saudi plan; why did they so aggressively bring Aramco and other companies under their direct control?

  24. Eidee Man says:
    September 2nd, 2009 10:04 am

    As much as I would like to hope this doesn’t come to pass, I think Yaqub is right. If the CJ got so worked up on the Steel Mills issue (rightfully so), then this proposal practically cries out for suo moto action.

  25. Anwer says:
    September 2nd, 2009 10:19 am

    Dehqan o kisht o joo-ay kh-yaabaan farokh-tand
    qaumay farokh-tand, o chih arzaan fraokh-tand


    They sold the farmer and his farms and the water of the pastures
    They sold the nation; lo and behold how cheap they sold it!

  26. Sajjad says:
    September 2nd, 2009 10:30 am

    There are two ways we can see it, good or bad.

    - Farmers will earn good money from their new masters as they will atleast follow some labour laws.

    - Landlord mafia will raise the agriculture commidity prices taking full advantage of resulting business envorinment.

    - Exporters will have no problems exporting grains and rice to middle east using their cover. that just means we will sell the whole country to them.

    you know what i mean…:)

  27. checker47 says:
    September 2nd, 2009 10:58 am

    It’s a stupid idea. This can only benefit politicians , especially the present lot whose only aim is to loot as much as possible befere they are booted out. Greasing palms is nothing new to the Saudis nor to us Pakistanis. Just like someone else asked in one of the above comments, why did the Saudis have to ask ARAMCO to leave?

  28. Tina says:
    September 2nd, 2009 11:07 am

    Eidee Man–No, there is no precedent for any of this, but we are entering an unprecendented era of human history. Before, we were only able to destroy our environment on a small scale, and that too in friendly climates.

    Never before has there been the possibility of millions of people living in deadly harsh environments (like Saudi or UAE) through the aid of technology and being able to import all of their food and water.

    Nor has there been the possibilty of leasing out huge lands to support these bubble-like colonies of people.

    Who knows what will happen? Will the people native to these regions violently reclaim their resources, leaving the millions of Dubai residents and retirees in Arizona (to give two disparate examples) to either move house or perish? Will the “owners” of the food and water simply slaughter the suffering poor with mercenaries to ensure their own survival?

    And Sajjad–the Saudis, following labor laws? You are kidding, right?

    Personally, I envision a hopeful future in which education and sense will prevail–the population peaking about the year 2030 at 10 billion, and then declining as the 20th century birth explosions–fueled by the green revolution and the discovery of penicillin–fade into history. New antibiotic resistant viruses and bacteria will help to restore balance, although of course this will be tragic for the individuals stricken. Some previously settled areas will become barren, but deserts will not become massively greater, and slowly people will return to the land as industrial agriculture runs its course and people seek greater yields through personal care of the land, double cropping (which can’t be done by machine), and so on. More food, less people, wise use of water–we can do this.

    If this doesn’t happen, then the “behavioral sink” theory comes into play–increasing numbers of people, living in increasingly worse conditions, turning on each other until finally something causes the population to crash like a that of a hayfield overrun by voles after a good summer–a war, or a disease, and so on. You know the routine–after the good year, the voles are literally jumping out at your feet, there are so many–and the next spring there are none to be found, because the population has gone into catastrophic collapse thanks to the pressure on the field, which cannot support that level of growth. This happens very dramatically with locusts, too.

    Since we can’t predict exactly what will cause the crash in the case of people, or how extensively it will affect us, we imperil our whole existence on this planet with this outcome (not to mention the needless suffering involved). Better to avoid it if at all possible.

    Getting back to the smaller picture, 99 year leases to Saudi are of course a terrible idea, once you start thinking of ways the Saudis might enforce their claim to this land. It doesn’t surprise me that your politicians are considering it, since it lines their own beds ever more downily, but it is very tragic for your country no matter how you slice it.

  29. Me Never Ever says:
    September 2nd, 2009 12:01 pm

    I’m from farmers family always heard from my elders farm land is like mother take care of it respect it and don’t sell it under any circumstances reading this post have really put a chill through my spine.
    How could we can even think of doing something like this reckless if we let them get away with this I’m afraid it will have permanent terrible ramification.
    This remind me re making of “East India Company” De Ja Wu.
    I can’t write this in any fancy way simply put if this blunder goes through we will never be able to sustain as a independent nation.

  30. Rehan says:
    September 2nd, 2009 12:16 pm

    We already export agricultural products to Saudi Arabia. May of these exports are rejected because of fraudulent practices, or lack of quality control, or inability to control certain types of pests. We end up losing agricultural export business to other countries.

    Leasing of farmland to, say, KSA, should down the road, involve much better farming practices, at least, the contract / lease language, should encumber the lessee with responisiblity to develop local infrastructure and care for the local population.

    It is worth remembering, that the much critisized, motorway project, despite its negatives, ended up having one huge positive. Pakistan was introduced to the standards a good road/highway should be built. Expertise was developed within pakistan to carry out similar, but smaller projects. Many quality subcontrating companies were established. Today, the quality of highways/roads being built in pakistan is much better than it used to be in pre-motorway days, when a local contractor would built a highway only to be washed away in the next rains.

    A corporate type quality agricultural infra structure which fairly takes care of people working there, may set a positive precedent, if it in itself is not exploitative. My personal opinion is that nothing can be more exploitative, than the current, wadera hari system anyways.

    500,000 acres, is not a big number, especially if divided among four provinces. We should know, that because of the system that we have, the productivity of land use, it far below international standards anyways. I am hoping a scientific system of land use is pioneered here, which may become the benchmark for other big land owners.

    Needless to mention, some of the big wadera families own upto 100,000 acres, but the motiviation for an individual or a family, in the pakistani feudal society, to maximize the productivity and care for the development and well being of the people working in the fields is minimum.

    Collective farming has been tried in the past in pakistan, but because of a plethora of reasons did not take off. I am hoping this venture brings the best of corporate type farming with emphasis on community development. I donot fear an ‘East India’ type repetition because or current international laws and system. I do see a potential of agricultural system reform.

    However, the biggest fear I have, is that, even if the land is leased, the feudal political elite, through lease terms, bind the lessee in a way that this development does not happen.

  31. me Never Ever says:
    September 2nd, 2009 12:17 pm

    B.T.W among all this depressing news this is irrelevant but i do want to share this inspiring video with my fellow ATP readers here is a video of one American who speak, read and write fluent Urdu ( and fan of Galib )

  32. Tina says:
    September 2nd, 2009 12:51 pm

    Rehan–Your answer is thoughtful and thought provoking….however I fear that large scale “corporate agriculture” tends to displace many more people than it employs. How should the current low-tech sharecroppers, most illiterate, who are living off the land be cared for once the big farms move in?

    Also, I’m afraid KSA isn’t exactly a leader in the human rights arena. You might get a high technological standard met on these farms but I am afraid the needs of the employees/local people will not be met.

  33. Adam Insaan says:
    September 2nd, 2009 12:52 pm

    …. just wondering is this what is meant by

    -and by the way it looks like Terra Mater is going to be interpretated as the “ugly step-mother”….what a fairy-tale, suddenly not one written by Hans Christian Andersen…!!!!!

  34. Sager says:
    September 2nd, 2009 12:55 pm

    This is a great idea that helps both parties. We get paid + and they get food. Farmers dont have any rights to begin with in Pakistan so the argument that rich will own land doesn’t fly well.
    In a broader strategic picture this will help Pakistan to be a regional player in Middle East. This will help create employment and bring latest agricultural technology to Pakistan.

  35. Darweesh says:
    September 2nd, 2009 1:03 pm

    I think this this not the first attempt by oil rich Arab Sheikhs to get hold of Pak land, our feudal lords( the real rulers in every govt set up) are fully invovled in this “sazish” as it always suits them to sell the rights of their Haris and Muzaras and poor Awam
    Let the civil society react to it,come out with strong protests as they did in case of judiciary and media.
    Would media be that vocal too as they were during the civil-strife against dictator !!!!!

  36. Sham says:
    September 2nd, 2009 1:11 pm

    I am not sure if there are more poor farmers who own their ow land? Or are there more land lords exploiting poor farmers? I guess what I am asking is who owns majority of agricultural land… Indivual poor people?.. or Landlords?

    If there are more landlords exploiting farmers? then introduction of new technology may also bring competition, and the landlords may have to cut down their profits and upgrade too!

  37. as says:
    September 2nd, 2009 1:24 pm
  38. Obaid says:
    September 2nd, 2009 1:55 pm


    What do Haris and Muzaras care who is their master?

  39. Owais Mughal says:
    September 2nd, 2009 2:33 pm

    The comments on this issue have been very educational from both sides of the aisles. I am also thankful to everybody for keeping the discussion civil so far.

  40. Rehan says:
    September 2nd, 2009 3:11 pm


    It seems that most people here are under the impression that some Arab Sheikh will replace some Wadera and will act exactly like a wadera, maybe worse.

    I think, this article is uncharacteristically a bit under researched.

    In all probability the Arabs will subcontract the job to some international corporation which has a history of leasing land in different parts of the world for the purpose of agriculture. There has been issues with such corporations e.g. farmers rights. I suspect that those issues were the basis on which Baloch Government has pulled out. For example see this link

    Interesting to note in this link, is that the well know Daewoo company is listed as one of the corporations involved in land renting in various parts of the world.

    Another strategic aspect, which the author should cover, is the KSA perspective. KSA’s strategic objective is to lease land in some fertile part of the world to generate self dependence on food. The options they have include, land lease in sub Saharan africa, including madagascar, or cambodia. If Pakistan is being considered as an option, we the citizens, should be suspicious, primarily because of the opacity of transactions that usually happen at the higher echelons. Rather than labeling it ‘colonization’ or ‘east india company’ someone should find out the details of the potential agreement, see what lessons can be learnt from experiences of other countries which lease land to corporations for agriculture, and then start a debate.

    In a hypothetical scenario, if a foreign corporations, does carry out farming within pakistan, I would expect it to be much more scientific and productive. There may be issues of farmer rights, and if there are farmer protests, that would be a blessing for Pakistan. Harees these days are not unionized, cannot lodge any protest, cannot ask for rights. are denied basic necessities, denied opportunities for education and self development. They are no better than slaves.

    If they can learn to voice protest and demand rights from a corporation, I wish it were a contagious phenomenon, and every hari and every kamee and every mazara do the same.

  41. ali says:
    September 2nd, 2009 3:34 pm

    350 firms from 20 countries to attend Saudi Agro-Food 2009 to explore new investment prospects in GCC

  42. Roshan says:
    September 2nd, 2009 3:39 pm

    Corporate Agriculture Farming (CAF) policy was developed by Board of Investment in early 2001. The government did not receive encouraging response from any quarters except few Chinese firms. Saudi Arabia, some other Gulf countries are now trying to invest in producing their food on foreign lands. Isn’t it ironic that we are facing food crisis at our home and renting our resource base to other countries rich countries. Here are few thoughts which I shared during that time some of the points are still relevant today.

  43. Owais Mughal says:
    September 2nd, 2009 3:48 pm

    Rehan, besides the obvious land grab, another of my concern is what’s in it for a Pakistani farmer or a hungry villager? will KSA or whoever they hire to till our land be employing Pakistani farmers or transferring latest agricultural technology to Pakistan? May be yes – it is not clear yet. If yes then I would be less critical of the deal. As of now however, it seems like some foreign company will come here, grow bumper crop and take it all abroad. Just across these lush farms, Pakistan’s general population and farmers will be left high and dry, hungry and miserable.

    I totally get the corporation model, world is flat model or world without borders model but if local population does not get any benefit then it will create lots of bad blood and hatred between a rich corporation or foreign country and their poor neighbors.

  44. Rehan says:
    September 2nd, 2009 3:56 pm


    Thanks for greatly enhancing the perspective of this issue. Your contribution in world trade review provides many of the missing pieces of the picture. I still think CAF can be of benefit to Pakistan. At least in this case, the products would be for export to one country KSA. It should not be allowed to compete for some time with the produce of local small farmers.

    I do not understand how CAF will result in massive eviction of indigenous people. The indigenous people should be benefited not evicted.

  45. Fahim says:
    September 2nd, 2009 4:04 pm
  46. Owais Mughal says:
    September 2nd, 2009 4:09 pm

    @ Roshan. yaar aap to chupay Rustam niklay :) Thanks for the link on your very informative write-up on CAF. I have added a link to it in our post above.

  47. jk says:
    September 2nd, 2009 4:25 pm

    Pakistanis should grow crops on their own lands and then sell them to the Saudis. Handing over all our hard earned land for some money is foolish.

    Fertile land is our most prized possession. Money devalues but land only increases in value. We mustn’t risk our farmers getting mistreated by the Arabs. Plus, this is only going to cause land disputes. Will we ever be able to evict them once they take over?

  48. Amin says:
    September 2nd, 2009 4:58 pm

    Please read “The Development of Underdevelopment” by Andre Gunder Frank to understand how corporate farming leads to underdevelopment in host contries.

  49. Abdul Hai says:
    September 2nd, 2009 10:56 pm

    For once I agree with Pakistani government policy. Leasing land to foreign governments will have huge benefits. It will break the monopoly of the feudal lords who control the land. There will be jobs for poor farmers. Agriculture production will be mechanized and yield on the land will increase substantially. The USAID expert with whom I share a ride every day and who visits Pakistan every few months, yield from crops in Pakistan is one third that of India because of out dated policies and practices.

    It reminds me about Pakistan telephone department which resisted foreign competition for so long, restricted telephone installation in order to get bribes, and kept prices high. Finally the cell phones companies destroyed telephone departments monoply and provided cheap communication tool to the masses and contributed to the tax revenue.

  50. always says:
    September 2nd, 2009 11:25 pm

    A different perspective. . . .

    “We could tip the equation back toward more diversified farms by reforming farm policy to favor conservation over production. Right now, the government pays billions each year to keep farmers growing cheap raw material for commodity companies. Without those subsidies, a lot of land now planted to grain would quickly become pasture.”

  51. Imran says:
    September 2nd, 2009 11:44 pm

    Yes, Off course

    If americans and taliban can own Pakistan, than why cant petrodollars rich arabs lease it.

  52. Muhammad Rizwan says:
    September 2nd, 2009 11:57 pm

    We have been taught by our forefathers that land is like a mother and we should respect and protect it from any invasion. There could be many ways to reach out to any win-win situation, like they bring in cutting edge technology in Pakistan, educate the farmers and buy the yield on cheaper price. In this way, our farmers will also be educated as well as we will not lose our land.
    Secondly, I have doubts regarding sincerity of this government in carrying out this deal. I don

  53. Roshan says:
    September 3rd, 2009 12:06 am

    @ Rehan,
    Just to add that large scale agriculture technology intensive rather than technology intensive which results urbanization. Though rural development is not and have never been our agenda, resultantly we have these ever expanding metro/megapolitans surrounded by slum dwellers.
    Getting back to our discussion, large scale farms really look neat (using heavy machinery, pest/herb-icides, produce more (but not sustainable) and are more stress on natural resource base as the only objective is production and profit rather than looking into the spillovers.
    Please do read Time magazine cover page story on August 21 :Getting Real About the High Price of Cheap Food,8599,1917458,00.html
    Though CAF seems very attractive both in foreign investment and mechanized farming but our planet and country (with rapidly depleting under/surface water sources) does not have capacity for extensive agriculture.
    Though its a minority voice at the moment to promote sustainable agriculture and raise voice for conservation but its the only way we collectively can save this planet for us and for our next generations.

  54. Tina says:
    September 3rd, 2009 5:25 am

    This has been a great discussion on a topic near to me…..

    To those who question how Pakistani farmers will be displaced, it happens through mechanization. When huge swaths of land are put under industrial agriculture, very few people are needed to run the machinery and those people must be skilled. So when this happens, some plan must be made to accomodate the many hand to mouth poor who are put out of work and who often cannot even read and write.

    It is now being learned that sustainable small farms can have per acre yields as great or greater than those of big corporate farms. The key is education and management. These small farms remain very labor intensive so they support many more people than a mechanized big farm.

    What small farms don’t do is make investors and businessmen in some trendy city halfway around the globe fabulously rich. They CAN provide quality employment and plenty of food, and are less likely to compromise the enivironment.

    That’s what it boils down to, as with so many other things. It’s up to governments everywhere to make farm and business policy that benefits the greatest number of people, not only the wealthy.

    That is what is partly missing in this discussion. If this lease goes through, it would be nice to see at least a portion of the money tagged to educate and employ the rural poor of the regions affected. Its true their lot is already bad now; it would be better to improve it without this land deal but if it must be, then at least the land deal could be used for a good purpose.

  55. Aaron says:
    September 3rd, 2009 5:51 am

    It’s not a big deal. Most of the Pakistani population is already underfed. Those who aren’t will still be able to buy imported food (as much of them already do). Middle class need not be there anyway so it’s pretty much okay.

  56. MQ says:
    September 3rd, 2009 8:26 am

    Some critical information is missing in this discussion: Where would the irrigation water come from? How much money would the government get for selling or leasing the land? How much employment will these farms generate? And, the land that is planned to be sold or leased, what use it is being put to now? Is it barren land?

  57. Eidee Man says:
    September 3rd, 2009 10:03 am

    I am very surprised to see so many people commenting in favor of what is a very, very bad idea.

    One argument being offered in defense of this plan is that Pakistani farm workers are abused anyway, and that since the Saudis, seeing as they never lift a finger themselves, will bring in international companies which will create working conditions at least marginally better than the current one.

    This rationale is quite nonsensical. Just because our farm workers are already abused by the feudal system, does that mean we should go ahead and put another monkey on their backs? Also, I am always at a loss to understand why so many in our country are easily impressed with fancy branding by companies such as Emaar. The inhumane, humiliating exploitation of South Asian workers by the Gulf countries has been documented time and again. The only reason multinational companies treat their employees fairly in Western countries is that they know they will get hit with massive lawsuits leading to almost certain financial ruin if they step out of line.

    I also disagree with the argument that this will lead to increased crop yields due to better farming practices, etc. I don’t doubt that our methods are as efficient as they can be, but that is why we have an agriculture department! It’s their responsibility to come up with new ideas, provide guidelines based on proper scientific studies of soil, climate, etc. If such advice is provided, then what kind of farmer (feudal or otherwise) will forgo the chance to increase yields and hence income?

    The reality is that Saudi Arabia has been a source of many problems for Pakistan. Their financing of extremists, and their close involvement in the Pakistani political dramas, to name just a couple.

    Ironically, I take some comfort in the fact that Pakistan is controlled by a small number of avaricious land-owning families who will resist competition at any cost.

    If Saudi Arabia needs food for its people, it should buy it from us like everyone else. Why is it that in most Gulf countries, non-citizens are not allowed to own land, leaving many business operators at the whim of exploitive “sponsors” who can bring their operation to a halt at any time.

    Also, in return for agricultural land, are they willing to give us a number of their oilfields?

  58. Zecchetti says:
    September 3rd, 2009 10:38 am

    I can see the following happening:

    i). Saudi buys a huge chunk of pakistani agricultural land.

    ii). Lots of dollars are poured into the Pakistani economy resulting in the overall amount of wealth people own or have access to to go up.

    iii). And so in the short term people are happy, but they are fooled because….

    iv). They need food, but they think that just because they have more money now they can easily buy it, BUT…

    v). Food is in severe shortage as most of the farmland used to grow it is owned by foreign states and its food is siphoned off to foreign lands.

    vi). The price of food rises to beyond what people can afford, despite their increased amount of dollars.

    vii). Pakistanis are poorer than ever before, not because they don’t have dollars but because the inflation in food prices is so high that it won’t even matter.

    viii). More poverty leading to more crime, prostitution (yes, prostitution. Don’t believe me? See this recent BBC feature:

    ix). More voids for groups like the Taleban to fill in.

    So, now what do you think? A good deal? It will probably go ahead any way since we are ruled by a people that love fists full of dollars. Just like they sold Dr Aafia Siddiqui for dollars.

  59. Rehan says:
    September 3rd, 2009 1:11 pm

    This has been such an absorbing discussion. There is much more in my reading list as a result of this post.

    Will the local population specifically and pakistan population will be economically better off as a result or coroporate farming? In this age old chicken or egg debate about economic development, I say either chicken(s) or egg(s) has(ve) the potential to start the chicken species. But if the egg is already bad, it is wise to expect nothing.

    I strongly disagree with the argument that the Agriculture department of Pakistan is responsible for improvements in agricultural technology in Pakistan, and if they do this or that the agricutural output will increase. Or the implication that political system in Pakistan will eventually evoke awareness in the Haaris and mazaraas in Pakistan. Both of the above have been tested and found wanting.

    There is no end in sight to the feudal status quo we are in right now. Let’s try a different system at a scale as large as the feudal lords. The devil will be in the details though. Safeguards at the legislative level need to be put in place in the lease terms ensuring rights of indigenous population, wherein a percent of generated output to be spent on growth of local infrastructure, including education and other employment opportunities. Also legislation to ensure, infact encourage the workers to be involved in some sort of unionized activity to protect their rights.

    The rights of and the economic and development oppurtunities for the local population, along with ensuring sustainable agriculture methods are primary concerns which I believe can be taken care of in the pre-agreement legislative phase. Although I doubt that the feudal political elite will allow it.

  60. Shakeel says:
    September 3rd, 2009 4:19 pm

    If Saudi Arabia wants more food in the future, then shouldn’t Pakistan Government worked up a strategy to SELL food to them? I mean wouldnt that be more beneficial to our economy? Plus, we keep our lands.

    All that is needed is better planning – bring in the latest technology for agriculture and improve the quanity of food etc. Thus being able to sell more food!

    I think this is really a poor decision. The politicians wont suffer .. but we will as always.

    God .. How incompetent these fools really are.

  61. Eidee Man says:
    September 4th, 2009 12:16 am

    Rehan, I am having trouble understanding your argument. Why can’t the agriculture department not help Pakistani farmers in practicing more efficient, sustainable farming? A large, national pool of experts employed by the government can be given the mandate conduct research on soil conditions, climate, etc and then provide regular guidelines to every farmer in the country. The economic argument is quite simple: whether it’s a small farmer or an abusive feudal landlord, NO ONE will forgo the opportunity to generate more income!

    Multinational companies who lease land will most certainly introduce technology to derive as much profit as possible from every acre, but they will do it without any concern for sustainability and the long-term health of the land.

    Also, these safeguards you mentioned will, even if they are introduced into legislation, not be worth the paper they’ll be written on. First, almost all of our political parties are subservient to Saudi Arabia; our former prime minister ran with his tail between his legs to them straight from jail, and these days our former president is begging them for their support. Second, the current state of affairs is such that the government is failing to provide even basic safety to its citizens; can we realistically expect the government to ensure workers’ rights?

  62. sayedzeeshan says:
    September 4th, 2009 4:39 am

    Land leasing is a good idea if and when we are self sufficient and a first world country with some land to spare.

    I think the govt should back off from this idea asap and tell Saudis that our land isn’t for sale. This govt seems desperate for money and would do pimping if need be.

  63. sidhas2000 says:
    September 4th, 2009 9:41 am

    Bad idea to lease agriculture land. Partnership, yes. It is all about negotiating the terms and conditions.

  64. Rehan says:
    September 4th, 2009 12:28 pm


    Your argument if Government run Highway authority had put in all their minds, skills and given enough money and time they would have make the motorway as good or even better than the one we have.

    Also, allowed to use their skills, given enough money and time, some government agency would be able to design, install and efficiently run a large industrial complex such as steel mill.

    Also, if allowed to use their skills the old state run PTC Volvo bus system in Lahore would not have collapsed but flourished into a modern transportation system.

    Also, given the mandate, Punjab university or karachi university should have been able to evolve into something like Agha Khan medical college or LUMS.

    I am not saying that agriculture department should not continue its efforts to improve farming practices. Private sector competition potentially can bring huge improvements in the rest of the system.

    One of the aspect of this deal, which is unclear to me: What land will be offered for lease? What is the source of water supply to that land ?

    From what I have read in recent Dawn Article, the land to be leased is currently Government owned land. What does that mean, is it being farmed at present? If yes, by whome and under what terms? If it is not being farmed then what is the status, is there any population and what is going to be water source?

  65. Rehan says:
    September 4th, 2009 1:01 pm

    This report is worth a read. Great overview of the issue.
    “Seized: The 2008 land grab for food and financial security”

    Another interesting story: “Outsourcing food production”

  66. Eidee Man says:
    September 4th, 2009 1:52 pm

    Rehan, I’m afraid I still cannot make heads or tails of your position.

    “Private sector competition potentially can bring huge improvements in the rest of the system.”

    We already have that! The vast majority of farmland is owned and operated by private parties; I am not aware of any farming operation run by the government.

    The point I’ve been trying to make is that competition between land-owners already exists, whether it be small farmers or feudal landlords; if some government research agency does indeed provide valuable guidance which they can use to improve their yields, they will most definitely implement it, simply because it is in their best interest to do so.

    Furthermore, land-owners big and small know that they have to produce a crop not just this year, but for many years thereafter, and for this reason they will automatically ensure that the soil, etc is not completely rid clean of essential nutrients. Why would a lessee concern himself with this issue?

    Also, just yesterday I was surprised to learn that a number Arabs from the Gulf countries do in fact own active farmland in Sindh that is operated by managers who are in some cases enticed with sponsorship of visas, etc.

  67. Rehan says:
    September 4th, 2009 2:23 pm


    Slow of me! but finally got it. I will be changing my views based on discussions here and from the info posted in Roshan’s link and the two links I posted below. especially “Seized: The 2008 land grab for food and financial security”

  68. Fahim says:
    September 4th, 2009 3:51 pm

    This also makes me think of the limited imagination of Pakistanis.
    Is this the best way to make a buck considering global warming and water shortage already happening?

    By the way, whereas, Pakistanis cannot wrap mind around a district government and large city system;even Vietnam now is leaps and bounds ahead…I would bet their FDI exceeds Pakistan’s…
    http://www.thuthiem. urbanareadetail.php?cid=6&id= 23
    Thu Thiem New Urban Area Planning Project – a modern civilized city characterized by its river. vn/eng vn/eng
    State President urges HCM City, Lam Dong to step up cooperation vn/eng
    New HCM City mayor vows to maintain high economic growth frontend!policy.action?id=724
    Belgium’s contribution to urban renewal in Ho Chi Minh City, Viet Nam
    Belgium, 2008

    Meanwhile, Hanoi’s no lesss ambitious: reports/2009/08/861679/
    Hanoi super-city plan continues to draw fire 2009/05/hanoi-urban-plan-to- divvy-up-city.html
    Hanoi urban plan to divvy up city events/2004/2004-cds-hanoi/ hanoi-web/files/Session%202/ S2-02-Dao%20Ngoc%20Nghiem% 20docEN.pdf

  69. Aqil says:
    September 4th, 2009 7:09 pm

    This is a very bad idea. Our first priority should be to ensure that the agricultural output in Pakistan is used to feed our own population and only the surpluss should go out of the country.
    Secondly, as many other commentators here have pointed out, this is going to have disastrous consequences for poverty and the environment.

  70. Umar Shah says:
    September 5th, 2009 4:43 am

    I hope this never materializes. We keep pushing ourselves in a deeper abyss with every passing moment. Someone like the Chief Justice should issue a show cause notice to the rotten PPP govt and stop them from selling out Pakistan like their founder. Will the PPP never stop from harming Pakistan?

  71. Riaz Haq says:
    September 5th, 2009 2:06 pm

    You are correctly pointing out the potential issues with the rich buying out farmland and staking claim on the produce in poor nations. Just think of the current situation with oil and you can visualize the dangers. However, if done as a crop-sharing deal with short-term leases as you suggest, rather than land sale, farm investments and expertise can help the farmers in South Asia, Africa, East Europe and Latin America become much more productive and acquire wealth in the process.

    And they can feed their countrymen better as well. I believe it can be done without compromising national sovereignty or taking away food from the poor by the rich.

    But the world food and energy crises clearly present opportunities for investors to invest in countries such as Pakistan with plenty of fertile farmland but very low farm productivity. By bringing the farm expertise and enhancing crop yields, agribusiness companies such as Archer-Daniel, Cargill, Bunge, Dow and Monsanto and their international competitors have tremendous opportunities in South Asia. So do companies like Caterpillar, John Deere, Kubota, Hyundai, Mahindra and others in the farm machinery and construction business. While many South Asians may be concerned about the negative impact of big agribusiness on the society and the environment, the over-riding need for efficiency to feed the growing population and international export opportunities will likely trump these concerns.

  72. ANON says:
    September 10th, 2009 8:58 pm

    Good article, but remember if the land is idle and no body has developed it for irrigation, then in such a case who so ever makes it productive must be given a chance to do so.

    Ideal situation is that all land in Pakistan must be irrigated no matter what, and if its owners are not cultivating their land, it must be surrendered to those who are willing to grow crops on it.

  73. Riaz Haq says:
    September 19th, 2009 12:02 am

    The train is leaving the station. What should be done, if the leasing of Pakistan’s fertile farm land to foreigners is fait accompli? Can we stop it? I doubt it. So what’s the next best thing?

    What I am proposing on my blog is as follows: “Pakistan faces potentially severe food and water shortages in satisfying the needs of its growing population. Significant investments are urgently required to avert potential famines and droughts. The best course of action now is to try and pressurize Pakistan’s leadership and negotiating team to proceed cautiously and craft the best possible terms for a few pilot deals they can to ensure Pakistanis’ food security and looking after Pakistan’s best long term interests, while offering reasonably attractive returns to investors.”

    Read more at:

  74. Abdul bari says:
    July 29th, 2010 9:14 pm

    I think it is a terrible idea. I also wonder who would actually want to buy land in today’s Pakistan.

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