Press Release ;29 March – Day of the Landless

March 29, 2021

Pakistan Kissan Mazdoor Tehreek (PKMT) and Roots for Equity joined hands with the Asian Peasant Coalition (APC) to mark March 29, 2021 as the Day of the Landless. In this regard, a webinar was held to highlight the urgent need for genuine agrarian reform and rural development that restores farmers’ rights over land and other critical productive resources through implementing genuine land reforms as well as by putting an end to the stronghold of monopolistic agrochemical transnational corporations over global food production and distribution systems.

Kasim Tirmizey spoke on the peasant struggles in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkwa in the colonial period. He emphasized that British colonialism deliberately created landlessness in the Indian sub-continent through social, historical and political processes. The British used land ownership as a reward system, awarding land to those tribes and castes who were loyal and supportive of the British imperialist agenda in the subcontinent. He elaborated on the various peasant movements and struggles, including the Punjab Kisan Saba that had resisted colonial control over land, and the vicious wrath of the British punishing those who resisted not only colonial land ownership but new forms of social contract created between the landlords and tenants. No doubt, extending private property ownership and formalizing land tenure resulted in overwhelming power and prestige to their pawns, the British are responsible for creating the exploitative tenant-landlord relationships that are characteristic of present day feudalism in the subcontinent. Kasim ended by emphasizing the critical need for strong peasant movements to overcome the exploitative forces of today. That is the lesson that is to be learnt from the past peasant movements of our ancestors from this soil!

Lal Zamin, a landless peasant from Garhi Bajaz village in Peshawar said that his community was facing acute hardship and atrocities, including harassment and being jailed several times at the hand of feudal lords who were well represented in the political leadership of Pakistan. These landlords have clear linkages to colonial rule. Now, under the current land grab for investments and infrastructural development of the Northern Bypass, peasants are once again being pushed off land and the difficult livelihood that Lal Zamin and others in his community were eking out for themselves. The case is still pending in court but peasants remain determined to fight for their right to land!

Tayyab-ur-Rahman, a small farmer from Mansehra, KP highlighted the importance of farmers, communities asserting their customary rights over the ecologies they have nurtured and are an integral part of, over many centuries. As part of the ‘land grab agenda’, government authorities are implementing measures that restrict the local communities’ access to forest resources. He stressed that the mentioned communities depend on forest resources for their lives and livelihoods; they have an inalienable right over forests and this right should be recognized and protected.

Rehana Kauser, a woman farmer from Ghotki, demanded an end to feudalism, saying that land redistribution is the only way to address the concerns of landless peasants. She said that feudal stronghold over land is still prevalent in Sindh and feudal and patriarchal forces collude to keep land out of the hands of women, as well as to undervalue women’s agricultural labour, paying them much lower wages than men. Even in rare instances where women have land in their names, they are not allowed meaningful control over decisions regarding land use.

Other speakers emphasized additional issues. Lockdown policies, travel restrictions and inconsistent and expensive transportation have affected all stages of food supply, resulting in a steep rise in food prices and widespread food insecurity. Due to this, landless peasants who migrate seasonally in search of agricultural work were unable to do so which further exacerbated their food insecurity, particularly in the case of wheat harvest. Mechanization and cotton crop failure further reduced income opportunities for landless women agricultural workers. Additionally, due to difficulties in acquiring agricultural inputs at fair prices and crop failures, landless farmers have been unable to recover their costs and pay back debt. In many instances, farmers sold perishable produce at low prices or destroyed crops due to inability to transport the produce to the market.

Landless peasants and small farmers with tenuous access to land and other resources are already subjected to exploitative terms and conditions of work and pay under the dominant feudal power structures present in rural areas. The industrial-chemical model of agriculture that benefits capitalist transnational corporations has captured the agricultural inputs markets, plunging small and landless farmers into a cycle of debt and dependency while eroding their right to food sovereignty. Despite toiling for and ensuring food security for entirety of Pakistan, the rural population disproportionately experiences malnutrition, anemia and stunting and wasting in children as compared to the urban population. Now, with the added economic uncertainty brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic as well as climate-related crop failures and relentless pest attacks, landless and small farmers are bearing the brunt of the public health crisis of COVID-19 and the ever-present systemic failures and inequalities it has exposed and exacerbated. In the face of this prolonged socioeconomic and health crisis, landless peasants are facing acute food insecurity and livelihood insecurity that is pushing them to the brink of chronic poverty. At the same time, land and resource grabbing carried out by mega corporations under the pretext of development projects has been at an all-time high.

PKMT and Roots for Equity support and reiterate the immediate demands of landless farmers and agriculture workers for genuine agrarian reform, sustainable systemic change and a radical transformation of the world’s food systems:

  1. Provide immediate and substantial economic relief through social protection initiatives and subsidies that reach all marginalized sectors, including landless farmers, agricultural workers, especially women and other segments of the rural population along with ensuring that lockdowns and other pandemic-related policies do not impact the lives and livelihoods of small and landless farmers.
  2. Put an end to neoliberal agricultural laws and corporate control of the food and agriculture sector that disadvantages local farmers, small producers while allowing mega-corporations to reap super-profits and carry out mergers and multi-billion dollar deals that further consolidate their control over world food systems.
  3. Ensure that farmers are not displaced from indigenous land and that no further landgrabbing of resource grabbing is carried out under the pretext of development, along with ensuring that all farmers and indigenous populations retain their customary rights over public lands, forests, water resources and other ecologies.
  4. Prioritize just, equitable and genuine land reforms that allow land redistribution to landless farmers, including women agriculture workers so as to ensure food security and food sovereignty for all farmers.
  5. Allocate funds for the creation of a robust public healthcare system that makes quality healthcare accessible to rural populations, including free testing services for Covid-19 and quarantine and treatment facilities.

Release by: Pakistan Kissan Mazdoor Tehreek (PKMT)