Note for Members of the Government’s Task Force on Poverty Alleviation

3. Observations and Possible Actions in the Rural Sector

In the rural sector my observations and analysis establish that the much maligned feudal system is either dead or dying. The vast majority of land owners possess very small parcels of land. They and their dependents constitute the major part of the rural population. They have to borrow money or purchase on credit inputs required for agricultural production. Alternatively, they have to sell their crop, often before sowing to city based arthis and bayparis at less than half its value. The credit they require is for the purchase of fertilizer, seed, tractor hire, pesticide, water, transport of crops to the mandi and for surviving between sowing and harvesting. Most of this credit is short term and is returned at harvest time along with interest which is usually to the tune of 20 per cent per month. The feudal landlord has thus been replaced by the tractor lord, the fertilizer lord, the water lord and various other related lords.

This dependence on credit and the poverty and bondage it has produced is not limited to the small farmer. The entire fishing community along the coast and in the lakes and barrage areas of Pakistan is similarly in debt to arthis and bayparis. Subsistence fishing or pastural activity, like subsistence agriculture, can no longer help communities to survive. Thus, the major issue in the rural areas is the supply of credit to the small producer so that he can become independent, increase his income and the wages of his landless labour, and access the mandi without having to go through the arthis or bayparis. All other issues are secondary including health, education and the problems faced b the landless population.

Another major issue is related to the purchase of animals for dairy products. This issue has a direct bearing on nutrition levels, especially for children. It is no longer possible for rural households to purchase or maintain a cow or buffalo. Those households who do purchase milk producing animals get them from middleman and in exchange they have to look after them and feed them and they have to give the milk away to the middleman at less than half its market value. The middleman then sells the milk in the market. A number of experiments in Pakistan have shown that credit for animal purchase can bring about substantial changes in the level of prosperity and nutrition of rural households.

The major problem facing unskilled landless labour in the rural areas is that it has low wages and no space that it can call its own. To be able to occupy land for living on, it has to seek the protection of a land owner and in return many of the family members of the landless labour work for the land owner free of cost. Previously, landless labour was permitted the use of shamlaat land. However, shamlaats, with the demise of the effectiveness of feudal and state institutions, have now been taken over by whoever was powerful enough to do so. The five yearly settlement or bandubust that has been a regular feature of land settlement since the fifteenth century no longer takes place. Can it be revived in some new form? Can a new system of shamlaats be created? We should ask ourselves this.

The government of Pakistan has made major investments in the water and sanitation sector in the rural areas of Pakistan. Most of this investment has gone to waste because of technologically unsuitable projects, high costs of maintenance and operation and substandard implementation. How can these projects be salvaged and how can future planning be more responsive to the social, economic and physical conditions in the rural areas? This is important since major investments are in the process of being made and yet larger investments have been planned for the future.

4. We Must Build on What we Have

All development projects in Pakistan ignore what we already have. They do not help us to use what we have better or develop what we have further. In Sindh we have large scale water-logging because of poor water management and our failure to desilt our canals and maintain our drainage channels. Instead of doing what we are not doing, we go and build the Left Bank Outfall Drain at a cost of Rs 25 billion. This creates a whole new drainage system in addition to the old. The project has already collapsed. There are numerous other such examples among which are the National Drainage Project, master plans of a number of Pakistani cities, the mass transit projects for Karachi and Lahore, the Islamabad-Lahore Motorway Project, the Karachi Special Development Plan etc, etc.

It is suggested that all development plans of national importance undertaken by the federal government should also be presented at the conceptual stage before a steering committee of interest groups and representatives of professional and/or academic organizations and NGOs. Their objectives, process of implementation and financial arrangements must be made public. Again, I feel that there are enough people and institutions in Pakistan who would take an interest in these plans and make use of the transparency and accountability that the proposed process offers so as to make the plans relevant to the Pakistan context.

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