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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

Comment Pages: « 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 [3] 2 1 » Show All

  1. 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.

  2. 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?

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

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

  4. 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”

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

  8. 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?

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