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The need to revive land reforms in Pakistan

By Staff

In the arena of human development in Pakistan, land reforms play an important role in reducing poverty and empowering the poor, especially farmers and the agricultural class.

In countries like Pakistan, the power of the class that owns land is really a monopoly that has served as a barrier to social and economic progress for the poor. Through land reforms, landlords' far-reaching power on the local political and economic power is reduced and more power can be given to the poorer workers on the land.

An additional benefit of land reforms is that it will help to solve the problems caused by the fact that farmers often use relatively inefficient capital-intensive techniques due to distorted factor market prices and that small farmers do not have access to the liberal credit subsidies on imported machinery and capital equipment.

Success through land reforms has been hailed in East Asia, where they helped create widespread support in rural areas for economic reform by presenting an opportunity for the benefits of future economic growth to be distributed among all sectors of society.

The key lesson to be learnt from the East Asian experience is how the successful implementation of land reforms had much to do with support the countries' governments gave farmers. In order for reforms to be successful, governments must help small farmers by providing ready access to extension services and agricultural infrastructure, such as irrigation water and roads.

In Pakistan and South Asia in general, small farmers receive little support in the form of credits, agricultural extension services, appropriate output prices, and easier marketing opportunities. It is clearly time that the Pakistani government stepped in to institute significant land reforms and extend support to small farmers.

However, these reforms must take into account the country's past failures, since the country has not done too well with its program of institutional reforms. It has already made two failed attempts at implementing such changes.

The first was in 1959, when land reforms fixed the ceiling for private ownership of land at 500 acres irrigated and 1,000 acres unirrigated. However, this did little to better distribute the lands in the hands of the country's prosperous rural elite. It was more of a cosmetic exercise than a significant social change.

One of the problems was that ceilings were fixed in terms of individuals rather than families. The reforms included generous productivity exemptions as well as separate provisions for orchards. Instead of portioning out lands, some landlords actually did rather well from the exercise, receiving generous compensation for surrendering uncultivated land. Barely 35 percent of the excess land declared by landowners was actually obtained by the government, with redistribution benefiting only eight percent of subsistence farmers.

A second attempt at land reforms was made by President Zulifikar Ali Bhutto in 1972. This time, the ownership ceiling was reduced to 150 acres of irrigated and 300 acres of unirrigated land. However, although these reforms looked good on paper, the impact was totally diluted when they were actually implemented. Less than 0.9 million acres of land was acquired for redistribution, which was about one-third of the land resumed under the 1959 land reforms. Once again, the ceilings were in terms of individuals rather than families. That meant a number of large landowners have managed to keep their holdings within an extended joint family framework and have given up only some marginal, not very productive, swampy lands.

In both of the above-mentioned cases, what went wrong was not the intention, but the implementation of land reforms. They had to be implemented by the ruling class which was also the class that was going to be negatively affected by them. Of course, there was no way these could be implemented realistically speaking because of this.

And so land reform remains a great possibility in Pakistan, but not a reality. According to the Federal Land Commission, only 1.8 million hectares (or less than eight percent of the country's cultivated area) have been resumed so far. Of these , 1.4 million hectares have been distributed to 288,000 beneficiaries.

Today in Pakistan, land ownership still remains highly concentrated. More than half of the country's total farm land is in farms of fifty acres or more.

Nonetheless, although meaningful land reforms in Pakistan may be difficult to implement, especially given the current feudal structure of power in the country, it is still necessary to work towards reforms that will work. The key is solving the issue of how to implement reforms by a body other than the landowning classes which sees these changes as detrimental to them and has and will try to circumvent the process.

Date/Time Last Modified: 6/18/2002 8:06:27 AM

Readers' Comment

aghashshzeb: 9/14/2006 4:54:02 AM
i dont know why every one is blaming the landlords for all the economic problenm and the poority in the country our country is now becoming a industrial hub also, people are owning foctories of milions what about them, think about ur self what if 2morow the gov comes and takes away your home from u and the reason it gives is that there are many people in the country that dont have a home so we are taking one family out the home and keeping 3 in its place what willl pe ur reaction and will u agree with it and for ur kind information because of the shortage of yhe water it hard for a farmer to cultivate his land so agin u will give a farmer a lot of land to cultivate or what

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