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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. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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

  4. 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!

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

    http://karachi.metblogs.com/

    where these hummers going to land ….

  6. 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.

    http://real-politique.blogspot.com

  7. 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.

  8. 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.

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