FEUDALISM: THE MODERN AGRICULTURE'S HANG-UP

TARIQ AHMED SAEEDI
(feedback@pgeconomist.com)
Aug 15 - 21, 2011

Agriculture sector is the powerhouse of Pakistan's economy not only because of its having one/fourth share in the economy but also being the major source of an income directly or indirectly for majority of the population of the country. That why this sector has not brought about a revolutionary change in the living standards of masses as happened in other agriculture based economies like for example China and stuck to its tedious natural role of crop production was however a question that had been haunting the local analysts for decades.

The probe comes to fruition as they have come up with a series of whys and ifs related to the underdeveloped agriculture sector and the underlying socioeconomic structure being the main cause. Unfortunately, the curative measures have been reluctantly adopted or forced into the spiral of silence, many a times since the partition. Obsessive centralism and feudalism are the constraints in exploring the unrealised potentials of the agriculture resources and improving the lives of the rural population.

With or without military junta, elites keep stranglehold over the wealth of the nation since Pakistan came into being.

The idea of an independent Muslim state was hailed exuberantly in Sindh, Punjab, and east Bengal for two different but the same reasons. Landowning community in Sindh and Punjab anticipated it as an opportunity to win a competition free market while poor farmers were revelling at the prospect of their freedom from the moneylenders based mostly in partitioned India.

This fact from an uncontroversial history of Indo-Pak also indicated the very foundation the then budding economy of Pakistan had to build itself on. Agriculture was to be the main source of income for the majority of population for tough years ahead as well as the only driving force to the economy.

What Pakistan received in shape of financial bounties from its British master was modicum in proportion to the sacrifices people made during the course of partition. Delhi, Bombay, and Calcutta that were the economic centres of subcontinent remained with the India and hence with them more than 80 per cent of well established industries as well as tax revenue sources.

Historians recalled in their valuable annals of history that financial assets doled out to Pakistan from fleeing world-wars-ravaged British government were too meagre that they all vanished in military rehabilitation and establishments. Nothing was left behind for the social and economic developments of devastated Pakistan consequently.

An undeniable failure of the post-partition state in Pakistan was its reluctance in transfer of power to the constituents. First blow to the adherents of provincialism surfaced in the form of one-unit that decimated the existential rights of the provinces by merging them into East or West Pakistan. An array of civil disobedience in an effect and federal government's complacency in reconciling with the estranged Bengalis resulted in the severance of Bangladesh.

Military backed by the politicians has staged coups many a times to overthrow the government since the beginning. It still is called into action to control the armed resistance sprouting out of violation of the political rights of the citizens. Feudal elites holding the landmasses of the country through the corridors of parliaments used to back up even those adventures that should have been denounced in the strongest terms.

Poor peasants are poor for generations and that is the curse despite their incomparable contributions towards the agriculture sector. They feed the fields days in and days out with their bloods to rack in wealth not ironically for themselves but for Pagaras, Khars, Chaudharies, Legharis, etc.

The political system during these days has shaped into a snobbish club for haves allowing admissions to only those who can afford the luxury of running the election campaigns.

Feudal elites with substantial representations in the corridors of powers and irrevocable say in the making of legislations nip in the bud any attempt that is made to challenge their interests and dominations. They are so much powerful that they can even mute the legal provisions that are going against them.

Agriculture tax is the issue in debate. The provinces are privileged to collect agriculture taxes. But, they are collecting too meagre a amount in form of farm tax to be called in proportion of the economic share of agriculture. That is obviously not income tax, but a paltry annual levy of Rs150 per acre on irrigated and Rs100 per acre on non-irrigated land.

A media report said the tax collection is in the clear violation of Article 260(1) of the Constitution that supports farm income tax even after the 18th Amendment.

One of the many reasons of lethargy in imposition of income tax on agriculture is that it has all capacity to unveil the original wealth of landholding juggernauts of Pakistan.

The so-called optimists justify the low wages of farmers in Pakistan by presenting low productivity as a reason. Pakistan is less efficient in crop production-wheat (21 per cent), sugarcane (27 per cent), and rice (19 per cent)-as compared to the regional averages.

However, they readily overlook the other factors that cause the famers to be inefficient. Farm credits are inaccessible to many sharecroppers or farmers with small landholdings. Agriculture extension departments even with all funds and facilities could not extend monetary, technical and educational facilities far and wide. Traditional practices are overlooked despite their being prime reason of low yields. The agriculture authorities and departments have become indifferent to the deep-rooted agricultural fundamentalism in rural Pakistan that does not accept any diffusion of change.

Corporate farming-local and foreign investments in the modern agriculture developments-can prove an antidote to the plague of status quo hatched and reared by the feudal lords.