REUTERS – 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 Baluchistan 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.
| Leasing land
|Sunday, September 13, 2009
The media reports about an agreement under which some 500,000 acres of land, located in each of the four provinces, would be leased out to Saudi Arabia to grow food crops that would then be whisked away to the desert kingdom, have been coming in for some time. Surprisingly, there has been little protest from any quarter. Yet imagine what this would mean in real terms: tracts of land within a country unable to meet the food needs of its own people would be converted into an oasis of green, where the best inputs provide the highest yields. Impoverished peasants, who survive on a pittance and struggle to eke out a living from their own patches of land, would be kept away by the stringent security measures to be installed around the lands. The abundant bounty grown here would not in any way benefit them. Indeed, some of those looking on may have been pushed into the growing sea of unemployment in cases where cultivated land is leased out. Others employed on these farmlands face potential exploitation. The Saudis are not known as especially benevolent employers.
There are other issues as well. Does the government have the moral authority to lease land that belongs to the state and the people of Pakistan? Can it, with any conscience, do so given that its priority must surely be to feed its own citizens? What will this mean in terms of political sovereignty, given that the control of vast farmlands will also give the Saudis a stronger hold over the country. Other issues could arise too. Saudi royals and their large entourages, permitted to hunt the endangered Houbara bustard in the southern Punjab, have for instance aroused the anger of local people who have complained about the attitude of the guests. Occasional complaints of the harassment of women have arisen. There are in this possible repercussions as far as Pak-Saudi ties go.
The wisdom of selling off valuables to meet immediate resource constraints must also be weighed more carefully. This is all the more true given that we have reports too that more land could be up for lease, possibly to the UAE and Qatar. This plan has been described too as being motivated by a desire to help our Muslim brethren. This is indeed a worthy sentiment. No doubt it was the prime factor behind the floating of the land lease plan by the Musharraf regime in 2007 and the decision by the ‘pro-people’ PPP government to go through with it. There are however better means to meet the food needs of the Saudis, who consume 2.6 million tonnes of wheat a year, and avoid some of the pitfalls mentioned. The resource-rich Arab nations should invest in poorer nations, such as Pakistan, by offering assistance to boost agriculture, improve irrigation and enhance productivity. Surplus food could then be bought by these states to feed their own people. This would be a situation that would benefit the maximum number of people everywhere and avoid adding to the problems faced by Pakistan and its people. (The News)
LHC moved against land sale to foreigners
LAHORE: Pakistan Kissan Board President Sardar Zafar Hussain Khan on Saturday moved a petition before the Lahore High Court (LHC), challenging alleged plans to sell Pakistani land to foreign countries. The petitioner alleged the government was planning to lease 0.5 million acres to Saudi Arabia while another plan was to give 1 million acres to Gulf States and other countries. He said the government’s move would amount to depriving the countrymen of rich and fertile soil. He said the government should itself cultivate the land. staff report