Islamabad: The Pakistan Army, which is already the most powerful institution in the country, is planning to expand its influence and control over the agricultural sector. According to a report by Nikkei Asia, the army is preparing to take over more than 10 lakh acres of land in Punjab province, which is the largest and most fertile region in Pakistan, and use it for farming. The army claims that this move is aimed at providing food security to the millions of Pakistanis who are facing poverty and hunger due to the economic crisis.
The report says that the army will launch a new food security campaign in 2024, which will be executed through a joint civil-military investment body called the National Agriculture Development Organization (NADO). The NADO was established last year with the objective of increasing crop production and saving water in Pakistan, which is facing severe water scarcity and climate change impacts. The NADO has already acquired about 2 lakh acres of land in Punjab, which it intends to increase to 10 lakh acres by 2024. This area is almost three times larger than Delhi, which has an area of about 3.3 lakh acres.
The report says that the army will use modern technology and techniques to cultivate crops on the land, which will be mostly government-owned or leased from private owners. The army will also build dams and irrigation systems to ensure water availability for the crops. The army expects that this project will generate huge profits from selling the crops in the market. The report says that about 20 percent of the profit will be allocated for agricultural research and development, while the remaining 80 percent will be equally shared between the army and the provincial government.
However, this project has raised many concerns and criticisms from various quarters, who fear that the army is trying to dominate and exploit the agricultural sector, which is the backbone of Pakistan’s economy and employs about 40 percent of its workforce. Some experts have argued that the army’s involvement in farming will create a conflict of interest, as it will also have a say in setting the prices and policies for the crops. Some activists have warned that the army’s acquisition of land will displace and marginalize millions of rural landless poor, who depend on agriculture for their livelihoods. Some politicians have also questioned the legitimacy and transparency of the NADO, which is headed by a retired army general and has no civilian oversight or accountability.
The report says that the army’s food security campaign comes at a time when Pakistan is facing a severe economic crisis, which has pushed about 9 crore people below the poverty line. The crisis has been worsened by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has affected millions of lives and livelihoods in Pakistan. The report says that Pakistan’s food security situation is also alarming, as it ranks 88th out of 107 countries in the Global Hunger Index. The report says that Pakistan faces multiple challenges in ensuring food security, such as low productivity, high wastage, poor infrastructure, inadequate storage, climate change impacts, water scarcity, population growth, and political instability.
The report says that Pakistan needs to address these challenges through comprehensive and inclusive reforms and policies, rather than relying on the army’s intervention. The report says that Pakistan needs to invest more in improving its agricultural sector, which contributes about 20 percent to its GDP. The report says that Pakistan needs to enhance its crop diversity, quality, and resilience, as well as its value addition and export potential. The report says that Pakistan also needs to ensure equitable access and distribution of land, water, and other resources among its farmers, especially the smallholders and women. The report says that Pakistan also needs to empower its farmers with better education, training, technology, credit, and insurance facilities. The report says that these measures will help Pakistan achieve food security and economic prosperity for its people.