DURING THE last couple of years the increase in prices of staple commodities have forced many countries to grow their own crops to manage supplies for their domestic consumers.

In pursuit of what is being called food security, some Gulf countries, including Saudi Arabia and the UAE, have focused on Pakistan to undertake corporate farming on its fertile lands.

Contrary to conventional western investors, these Arab companies are not hesitant in launching projects in Pakistan.

Some private companies, on behalf of the UAE government, have already purchased 800,000 acres of land in Pakistan. They have acquired lands in Balochistan near Mirani Dam to begin mechanised farming. They are expected to sign a memorandum of understanding with the Balochistan government.

The UAE is also in negotiation with the Sindh government to acquire land in Jamshoro close to the National Highway, Shikarpur, Larkana and Sukkur. They also showed interest with the KPK and Punjab governments.

In Punjab they want to invest in the area surrounding Mianwali, Sargodha, Khushab, Jhang and Faisalabad. The government has not only agreed to sell the state land to UAE but is also offering attractive legal and tax incentives. Most of the food rights activists believe that corporate farming will transform the countrys agriculture from subsistence-based to corporate and export-oriented nature. This will encourage big landlords to convert to corporate farms, potentially immunising their land from future agrarian reforms, and spurring new investments in capital-intensive technologies that will displace farm workers.

Corporate farming will also displace subsistence farmers, forcing them out of a livelihood. Subsistence farmers already maintain a precarious existence in the country.

About 80 per cent of farmers have less than two hectares of land or are landless. Those who grow crops will be forced into competition with a highly organised and capital-intensive corporate sector and may find themselves unable to stay afloat. As a result, many of them would sell off their land to private companies or big landlords.

Nadeem Ali Wagan @Karachi

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