A shrinking agricultural economy

June 04, 2023

There is an urgent need for the government to protect farm and pasture lands

Share Next Story >>>


griculture generates nearly 60 percent of Pakistan’s gross domestic product and, according to the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics data, employs more than 43 percent of its workforce. More than 65 percent of the population living in rural areas is directly or indirectly dependent on agriculture for their livelihood.

Millions of hectares of productive land are, however, being lost to desertification either due to mismanagement or climate change. This is greatly affecting the economy, agricultural productivity and food security. Rising population, shrinking agricultural land, widespread land degradation and inadequate infrastructure appear to be the major concerns for the agriculture sector in Pakistan.

The shrinking of agricultural resources due to a rapid increase in population and climate change vulnerabilities has made Pakistan more prone to desertification, droughts and land-degradation. Thousands of acres of fertile lands are getting degraded due to changing weather patterns.

Adapting to the changing weather patterns and population explosion are uphill tasks. The shrinking resources are further aggravating this challenge. The country’s population is currently around 220 million and growing at a rate of nearly two percent. This poses a serious challenge of meeting the food needs of the people.

The growing population has resulted in a shrinking of ancestral agricultural land share for nuclear families, forcing a massive population influx to urban areas in search of employment. The urbanisation has resulted in a growing demand for residential units. Many housing developers are now using fertile lands for building housing societies. The increasing population and rapid urbanisation are thus widening the gap between supply and demand for food.

The demand for commodities like wheat, rice, maize and sugarcane has been increasing by the day. Heat waves, torrential rains and floods have worsened the situation for the producers and consequently the consumers.

Small farmers in the country are facing the challenges of rising cost of inputs, low productivity and shrinking profits. Cultivating each crop with the expectation of profit, they earn less at the end of the day. A major chunk of their expected profit is usurped by input providers and middlemen.

Inefficiencies of traditional farming and climatic effects are the other factors affecting their output and income. Small farmers remain under immense stress due to rising inflation and their exploitation by the middlemen. They are unable to utilise the full potential of their fields. The small farmers are also disorganised and do not raise a unanimous voice for their rights.

Successive governments have failed to ensure that the full potential of agricultural land is utilised and that more land is brought under cultivation. The development of massive housing societies on agricultural land is resulting in a shrinking of the land available for farming.

The situation is quite dire around major cities such as Lahore, Islamabad, Karachi, Gujranwala and Faisalabad where thousands of acres of agricultural land has been converted into housing societies. If this trend continues, the fertile land will be under extreme pressure of population growth.

Currently, the biggest challenge to the agriculture of the country is the development of residential societies on fertile lands. Development of housing societies on fertile land also harms bio-diversity, landscaping and irrigation infrastructure. Farmers and extension workers have to toil for years to make land fertile. Handing that land to housing developers is very unfortunate.

The sale of fertile land may appear tempting in the short term but will ultimately make it harder to meet the food needs of the growing population. Pakistan is already facing the problem of low agricultural productivity. Loss of fertile lands and climate change disruptions will make the challenge harder.

Yields of principal crops are already lower than in other countries. Global warming and climate change too are being blamed for the growing food shortages in Pakistan.

Since a lot of land is in close proximity to the cities, the price offered is quite tempting. The real estate businesses face no problem in acquiring the required acreage and convert it into residential and commercial plots.

Today we have hundreds of housing societies surrounding the big cities and towns. Given the real estate tycoons’ clout, the phenomenal growth of housing projects on farmlands has gone on for many years.

There are also complaints of small landholders being forced to sell land.

Pakistan has been an agrarian economy. It has traditionally figured on lists of top 10 producers of cotton, rice, sugarcane, maize, milk, fresh vegetables and some exotic fruits. Despite the ecological diversity, we have failed to add value to these crops. This has led to the erosion of financial viability of small landholdings and encouraged migration from the rural to urban areas.

Almost all sub-sectors of our agriculture continue to suffer from low productivity. In the crops sector, per-hectare yields are far less than those in other countries. According to a World Bank report, there has been a consistent disparity between the crop yields of rich and poor farmers. The food insecurity situation has worsened over the years due to extreme weather, economic fluctuations and other factors exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Space for farming in Pakistan continues to shrink because of pollution and overdevelopment, which is making agriculture less lucrative. Some of the farmers are selling their lands to housing developers.

The federal and the provincial governments must take cognisance of the situation and act to save the farm land and pastures from falling to the housing developers.

The writer is a freelance journalist based in Islamabad. He can be reached at saleemshahid.journalistyahoo.com He tweets at Saleem_Shahid

More From Political Economy