A strategic blunder
Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi’s revelation that the plan to give arable land on lease is still intact should ring alarm bells. It seems that despite argument to the contrary, the foreign minister is committed to using his clout within the government to go ahead with a plan that is dubious at best. Rich countries that depend heavily on food imports are looking for lands in developing nations to ensure their food security in the coming years in the face of fluctuating prices of foodstuff in the international market. The foreign minister’s argument that the land to be leased is fallow does not stand for a number of reasons.
First, over 10 million hectares of land that is to be leased is situated in Southern Punjab and Sindh, the most water deficient areas. With already dwindling water supplies, which are projected to fall further in the coming years after the construction of Bhasha-Diamer dam, what guarantees can Pakistan give to the investing parties that it will ensure a constant water supply to sustain continuous output at the expense of dehydrating our own people and lands? Second, if the prospective investor will run their farms on minimum use of water through conservation techniques, then the same could be introduced into the farming sector by training the local farmers, thus creating employment opportunities in undeveloped rural areas and increasing our productivity. Third, news reports appeared last year that while selling the idea to prospective investors, when the issue of security arose, Pakistan floated the idea of raising a 100,000-strong force to provide protection to the leased farms. At a time when security forces cannot even protect the life and property of ordinary citizens from the militants, pledging security to ‘foreign farms’ seems to be a pie in the sky. Fourth, these leases are for an extended period of time. An increase in population during the time of lease would warrant that we bring more land under cultivation and increase our productivity. This inevitably leads to the fifth point that Pakistan’s own food security is important. Every year, one or the other commodity flies from the market, which we have to buy at inflated prices from international traders when a cheaper alternative is to grow it at home. Not only producing our food at home is a tactical issue, in the coming year surplus food export may even become a profitable venture. In a scenario when prospects of climate change has sent everyone running for food security, whatever the prospective returns, it would be a massive strategic blunder to pledge our arable lands to foreign countries.
Source: Daily Times