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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. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. Obaid says:
    September 2nd, 2009 1:55 pm


    What do Haris and Muzaras care who is their master?

  4. as says:
    September 2nd, 2009 1:24 pm
  5. 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!

  6. 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 !!!!!

  7. 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.

  8. 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…!!!!!

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