Hope for land reform in Pakistan
Tahseen Alam Regional Media and Communication Officer, Dehli
13th Jun 2011
Landlessness, exploitation and rising food prices are pushing more Pakistani farmers into poverty. A new Farmers' Charter of Demands calls for reform.
250 farmers from all over Pakistan, with the support of Pakistani NGOs and Oxfam have launched a Farmers' Charter of Demands urging the government to adopt agricultural reforms to better protect poor and landless farmers.
Key demands of the twelve point Farmers' Charter include calls for the reform of existing tenancy acts to allow workers to establish unions, demand fair wages and receive land titles supporting their legal rights to the land; while legal mechanisms should be put in place to adjudicate complaints and resolve conflicts.
The Charter says there needs to be comprehensive land reforms - ensuring cultivable state-owned land, as well as land owned by absentee landlords, be redistributed to landless farmers, including women, who currently cultivate the land. It also highlights the need for the repair and reconstruction of irrigation channels ahead of the next monsoon season.
The document was presented to key Pakistani politicians and experts in Islamabad including Taj Haider, Former Senator, Kishwar Zahra, Member of National Assembly and Aftab Alam, Regional Coordinator on Food and Agriculture for Action Aid.
The Charter was released on the day that Oxfam launched, 'My land, my right', a briefing paper calling on the Government of Pakistan to include comprehensive land reforms as part of its recovery and reconstruction programme in the wake of the 2010-11 devastating floods.
The paper states that reconstruction must explicitly address land issues and crippling inequalities in people's rights and access to land. If not, the agency warned, millions of Pakistanis will remain trapped in deepening poverty, undermining the country's recovery.
Most people who live in the rural areas affected by the floods are landless. Lack of land ownership and insecure access to arable land are two of the major causes of rural poverty in Pakistan. The briefing paper said women farmers were among the most deprived. Despite their immense involvement in agriculture, they own less than three percent of the land - a figure which has fallen after the floods.
'The situation has significantly worsened since the floods', said Fatima Naqvi, Manager of Oxfam's Land Rights and Economic Opportunities Programme and author of the briefing paper. 'But recovery and reconstruction can also provide an opportunity to tackle crippling inequalities in people's rights and access to land. There is a chance to 'build back better', but land reforms have to be part of that plan if men and women farmers aren't to be pushed further back into a spiral of poverty.'