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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
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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 posted

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  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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!”

  5. 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?

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

    “Qoumai Farokhtand Wa Cha Arzan Farokhtand”

  7. 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.

  8. 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!

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