October Issue 2009
A Fruitful Investment
According to Dr Qadir Bux Baloch, Agriculture Development Commissioner, Ministry of Food and Agriculture, Pakistan has 79 million hectares of farmland. A survey of 57 million hectares has been carried out which shows that, due to inadequate resources, only 23 million hectares are being cultivated. Out of this, eight million hectares is left uncultivated because of the non-availability of water. Approximately 95% of Pakistani farmers lack sufficient resources to properly cultivate their lands and, out of the remaining five percent, only a few have access to the latest farming technology.
Given the situation, Dr Qadir Baloch is of the view that Pakistan has vast lands for foreign investment and that opposition to the government’s plan to lease out lands to Saudi Arabia and other foreign investors is unjustifiable. But talks on this issue are still in its initial stages. The Saudis expressed an interest in investing in arable land in Pakistan some months back, but the Saudi delegation has yet to visit Islamabad.
Dr Baloch said the concern that leasing out farmland to foreign investors would threaten the sovereignty of Pakistan is misplaced as it was a worldwide phenomenon, with the US and some other developed countries also opening their farming sectors for foreign investment. Moreover, not a single inch of land can be leased out to foreign investors before the required legislation by the parliament. “All the parties, including those in opposition, should examine the government’s plan before its approval by parliament,” he said. “The legislation that will be placed on the floor of the parliament should take care of all relevant issues, including food security, chemicals and other agri inputs to be applied to the lands leased out.”
The government will also take all the stakeholders on board, including the local farmers and those dealing in the agri-business, before signing any formal agreement with foreign investors. “The local investors will also be invited to join hands with the foreign investors and acquire lands for cultivation,” he said.
He explained that one of the benefits of signing the agreement would be that the Saudis will bring the latest in farming technology to Pakistan, which includes the utilisation of sea water for agriculture. This technology has been successfully carried out on their own lands, especially for growing wheat.
Dr Baloch maintains that Pakistan produced 27 maunds per acre of wheat during the current year, with the annual wheat production reaching 24 million tonnes. “We could produce up to 40 maunds per acre yield every year, but for that the latest technology, such as that used by Saudi Arabia, is vital,” he said. “With a substantial increase in the annual production of wheat and other farm products, there will be no problem of food security. Besides, the foreign investment in agriculture will provide jobs to thousands of people across the country,” he added.
The farmlands earmarked for foreign investment are in Sindh and Balochistan, with most of the area falling in Balochistan.
This sidebar appears as part of a larger article: Giving Away the Family Silver by Najma Sadeque