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Untitled Document
Land for the Landless?
Dr. Akmal Hussain
Newspaper: The Daily Times
Dated: Wednesday 25th July 2002

It appears that the government is considering allotting as much as 2.6 million acres of State owned land to the landless as part of its over all poverty reduction strategy. This cannot be seen as a substitute for a land reform programme of ‘land to the tiller’. According to the 1990 census of agriculture there are over 12 million acres of private farm area under tenant cultivation. It is this acreage that would need to pass into peasant ownership for a genuine land reform to occur. Moreover as argued in my article in these columns last week, such a land reform is essential not only for overcoming poverty and accelerating agriculture growth but also for establishing the social and cultural basis for a sustainable democracy. Nevertheless 2.6 million acres (assuming that all of it is cultivable) could make a significant contribution to the reduction of rural poverty. For example if the 2.6 million acres of state owned land were to be transferred to landless farm households in holdings of 12.5 acres each, then as many as 210,000 tenant farmers would become owner operators. This means that out of the total number of tenant farm households (796,770) as many 26% would become owner operators.

However, it is important to recognize that providing ownership of land to the landless is a necessary but not a sufficient condition for alleviating their poverty. Enabling the landless to make the transferred land cultivable, to actually settle on the new land and to achieve a sustainable increase in their income, productivity and savings are equally important factors in making the scheme successful.

The achievement of sustainable livelihoods for the landless rural poor through the provision of state owned land would involve the following steps to be undertaken by relevant departments of provincial governments in partnership with NGOs, private sector and international donor agencies:

  1. Undertake a diagnostic survey of the areas in which the beneficiaries and the lands to be transferred to them are located. The objectives of these diagnostic surveys would be (i) to evaluate the cultivable status of the land; (ii) Identification of the main physical constraints to utilizing the land for the purpose of achieving a sustainable livelihood for the poor. (Examples of such constraints are: saline soils, poor quality of ground water, poor management of torrent water or an absolute non availability of water); (iii) Identification of physical infrastructure interventions that could be made through participatory development projects; (iv) Identification of micro enterprise projects which individual households or groups of households of the poor could undertake in order to achieve a diversified economic base for their livelihoods; (v) Estimates of credit needs of those poor households who are targeted as beneficiaries of the newly allotted lands.

  2. The provincial governments should facilitate the local governments in the specific areas where the relevant state lands are located to initiate a process of social mobilization of the landless poor. This mobilization would be essential to enabling the landless poor households to begin using the newly acquired land in a productive way and to position themselves for acquiring skill training, credit and technical support from both government departments and NGOs.

    This social mobilization could be conducted by local governments through partnership with community based organizations at the local level, NGOs at the district and provincial levels and with support from donor agencies and apex organizations such as the Pakistan Poverty Alleviation Fund.

  3. After specific local level infrastructure projects for improving the productivity of state allotted lands have been identified, the provincial governments could mobilize the necessary technical expertise for implementing the projects for organizations of the poor. The financial resources necessary for these infrastructure projects could be acquired from Asian Development Bank, World Bank, Small Business Finance Corporation, The Khushhali Bank and Pakistan Poverty Alleviation Fund.
    4. The provision of technical training and credit for micro enterprise projects could be undertaken by networking the following organizations: (a) PPAF and Khushhali Bank for credit. (b) For organizing technical training and technical support for micro enterprise projects of the poor, existing NGOs, and various apex support organisations could be networked.

In conclusion the scheme of providing state lands to the landless poor can lead to a sustainable increase in incomes of the beneficiaries if the provision of state land is combined with the following elements: (1) social organization of the poor, (2) development of local infrastructure for increasing land productivity, (3) development of micro enterprise projects of the poor and (4) provision of training, technical support and micro credit to the poor in order to develop a diversified economic base for overcoming their poverty. If such a scheme for participatory development of poor landless households could be undertaken, then the government could set a new example not only for Pakistan but also for developing countries as a whole, that could demonstrate how at least some of the landless poor can be enabled to overcome their poverty.

Note: This article is dedicated to the memory of Mr. Omar Asghar Khan who during his tenure as Federal Minister initiated the process of policy formulation for providing sustainable livelihoods through the transfer of State land to poor peasants.

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