Performance of the agriculture sector in different political regimes
Blog by: Saad Khalil
Professor Qaiser Munir, in a recent seminar hosted by the SPRC, shed light on the Pakistan’s agriculture sector performance under various political regimes. He initiated with Ayub Khan’s regime and discussed some significant steps taken during this tenure, such as the adaptation of high-yielding varieties of crops and the introduction of improved seed varieties, especially for wheat and rice, which are considered pivotal landmarks in ensuring the green revolution in Pakistan. Moreover, the expansion of irrigation facilities through building dams, i.e., Mangla Dam, canals, and other irrigation infrastructure projects, supported the growth of agriculture sector. The speaker further discusses the implication of the promotion of using chemical fertilizers to enhance soil fertility. On top of that, to ensure land distribution, Khan initiated land reforms, which included the imposition of a land ceiling to limit individual landholdings. The Green Revolution had positive outcomes but raised concerns about chemical inputs, long-term sustainability, and the disadvantage of small farmers to larger landowners. Moving ahead, he discussed major aspects of Bhutto’s land reforms in 1972 and 1977. Land reforms under the Bhutto regime enforced land ceilings to imposed limits on the maximum amount of land an individual or family could own. The government limited land ownership to 150 acres of irrigated and 300 acres of unirrigated land. The 1977 reforms reduced land ceilings to 100 and 200 acres, leading to redistribution of excess among landless peasants. Moreover, the 1977 reforms aimed to redistribute confiscated land to landless peasants but faced challenges such as resistance from large landowners, bureaucratic hurdles, and identifying eligible recipients.
The keynote speaker additionally debated on Zia-ul-Haq’s agricultural policies (1977–1988), highlighting environmental concerns, uneven distribution of benefits, and land ownership inequality. Emphasizing on the increasing challenges due to climate change, he discussed policy initiatives undertaken in the Sharif government (2013–2018) including agriculture emergency programme. The successive political regimes in Pakistan have not brought structural reforms due to discontinuity and lack of focus. Pakistan faces water scarcity due to inefficient management, over-extraction of groundwater, and climate change, affecting agriculture and posing a critical challenge. Furthermore, despite modernising agriculture, traditional practices persist in some regions, limiting productivity gains. Land reforms, including distribution and tenancy, face resistance and bureaucratic challenges. Lastly, the speaker further highlighted various challenges Pakistan’s agricultural sector faced during the Imran Khan era (2018–2022). Pakistan’s agriculture sector, contributing 23% to GDP and employing 37% of the workforce, suffered severe damage in 2022 due to unprecedented floods and flash flooding. Post 2022 floods the government had announced the Kissan Package in October 2022 to help subsistence farmers and livestock keepers recover their livelihoods and revive the agriculture sector amid climatic events. Notwithstanding the difficulties, the crops of the Rabi season produced more, making up for the kharif season’s crop losses.
To sum up, the webinar highlighted the intricate link between Pakistan’s political systems and agriculture, emphasizing the need for understanding structural inequality, historical trends, and incentives in determining sustainable agricultural policies.