The democratically elected Prime Minister, Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani, a feudal by birth, recently announced the new procurement price of wheat, Rs 950 per 40 kg. While making this announcement he went on to make two interesting observations; first-new price will not affect the masses and, second, higher purchase price will curb the smuggling of wheat. Whereas the first statement is much beyond ones comprehension, the second one points to a situation where the honourable prime minister and his team appear to be fast running out of more astute options in governance. This increase in price notwithstanding, government will still be providing subsidy, yet the consumers will end up getting the flour somewhere between Rs 35 to Rs 40 per kg. Now the million-dollar question...who will be the real beneficiary of this increase? An average farmer or those feudals who are less in number but own big land holdings and, still further, those middlemen who do not grow even a grain of wheat? According to the Pakistan agricultural census conducted in year 2000, total cultivated area in the country is just above 40 million acres. Out of this more than 28.5 million acres of land belongs to the landlords whose number is not more than 20 percent of all families engaged in agricultural sector while the remaining 80 percent families own 21.91 million acres of land. It is pertinent to note here that there are another 9.7 million acres of land that belongs to the government and are not under cultivation. Out of the total cultivated area, around 20.06 million acres of land is used for wheat crop, 7.21 million acres for rice, 7.91 million acres for sugarcane and the rest of the land is used for other crops. We are aware that agriculture is the hub of economic activity in Pakistan. It lays down the foundation for economic development and growth. It directly contributes close to 25 percent to Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and provides employment to 44 percent of the total labour force of the country. Direct as well as indirect share of agriculture is very high in our exports. Thus it is prudent to call agriculture as the backbone of Pakistan economy, and even more important, to treat it as such. Major proportion of the population depends, entirely or in part, on the earnings from agriculture. Therefore, development in agriculture is synonymous to the development of the country and availability of timely and realistic statistics is a pre-condition for sound agriculture development planning. The Agricultural Census Organisation Statistics Division, Government of Pakistan, takes this job. This organisation is bound to release the updated report Agriculture Census every 10 years. However, the government failed to publish the census report for the period 1980 to 1990. It was not because that census was not done or the report was not prepared. It was due to the political reasons that the report was not made public. According to agricultural census 2000 the number of workers is 16.85 million, out of which 11.60 million are men and 5.247 million are women. The number of children engaged in agriculture is not considered a part of the labour force if per acre yield of wheat is one ton then we should get 556,200,000 maunds wheat crop every year. Our requirement does not exceed 555,000,000 maunds. The government has fixed the wheat procurement target for the coming season at 25 million tons, and it is hopeful that the target 'would be achieved'. But the situation on ground provides a different reading; the increase in purchase price (supposed to act as an incentive for more cultivation) has been nullified by the heavy price increase of fertiliser (DAP) electricity and diesel. This increase in prices of key inputs will adversely affect the production targets and the economic condition of the small farmers will remain the same, if not deteriorate further. So far the government has not been able to control the sky rocketing prices of fertiliser (DAP). If the government is serious in achieving the production targets of wheat then the government should come out heavy handed on those who are responsible for the unbelievable rise in DAP prices. The government should also subsidise electricity and diesel for the farmers. In fact this increase in prices of inputs appear to be part of a sinister plan aimed at pressing the government to adopt corporate farming as a state policy. There are signs that some federal ministers and a few persons in PPP hierarchy are sold out to the concept of corporate farming system in the country without realising that it shall tantamount to laying foundation of the East India Company style cartels, if not an Israel, in the piece of geography we today refer as Pakistan. No doubt there is a very strong lobby within the government and outside to adopt the corporate farming system and big landholders/feudals are likely to favour such an idea because they will get their due share (or even more) without any inputs. But the small farmers and the common man will have to suffer a lot. If government is keen, as it should be, on trying enterprising ideas to increase yields in agriculture sector, Cooperative Farming may provide the solution. Instead of making it an out and out commercial venture, as the corporate farming envisages, cooperative farming involves the community on a more interactive level and results in increase of employment and skill. We should understand the new system of economic imperialism we are being pushed into. We should know the apparent divorce between economic growth and development in Pakistan owes its existence to many factors. Prominent among these are:     Skewed income distribution;     Absence of any meaningful land reforms;     Non-existence of income tax on agricultural income;     An overwhelming reliance of fiscal policy on indirect rather than direct taxes;     Heavy burden of defence and debt servicing on limited budgetary resources; and     Political domination by a renter class that pre-empts the patronage of the state in its own favour. In Pakistan, some half-hearted attempts at land reforms were made in the past. Unfortunately, the land reform act of 1959 was neither radical nor effectively implemented. However, the 1972 land reform act was implemented effectively to some extent. Under the 1972 land reform act, the federal land reforms commission resumed around 3 million acres of land and could distribute 1.6 million acres of land among 288,000 landless peasants. The January 1977 land reforms could not see the light of day. Even the 1972 land reforms were undone during Zia regime, as the Islamic Ideology Council declared these land reforms un-Islamic. Many big landowners had managed to keep their holdings within an extended joint family framework and had given up only some marginal, least productive, and swamplands. The fatal flaw in these land reforms has been that the ruling class itself owned most of the land and was not prepared to commit hara kin by implementing any effective land reforms. Land ownership still remains highly concentrated, over half of the total farmland is in farms of fifty acres or more. Without fundamental changes, particularly land reforms, the prospect for human development (and agriculture as well) Pakistan appears quite black. The per acre wheat production in wheat crop area, irrigated by the canals water, is between 40 to 50 maunds and 20 to 30 maunds per acre in the barani areas. If the average wheat production is considered being 27/28 maunds per acre, then we should have around 55.62 million maunds of wheat crop that makes Pakistan self-sufficient. Our national requirement of wheat is 55 crore 50 lakh maunds. It is difficult to understand as why we are worried about achieving the target. If we do not achieve the production targets, then there is something seriously wrong. It may mean that the government is not facilitating the peasants. They may not be getting the required quantity of seed, or best quality seed, water, fertiliser and other facilities and the peasants may not be interested in sowing wheat. It is interesting to note that only 53 percent wheat area is used to get wheat crop and rest of the area goes waste. The new democratically elected government should attend to this problem without any delay. To get more wheat produce, the government should immediately go for:     Land Reforms announced by Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in 1997.     The 9.7 million acres of land should be distributed amongst the landless peasants who can develop this land; cooperative farming model mentioned above may be a prudent way to go about it.     The government should come out to help the peasantry by providing them the best seed, required quantity of water up to the tail ends and the fertiliser at lower price. Diesel on subsidised rates should be supplied.     Roads to the markets should be of standard.     The role of the middleman should be eliminated. The federal government and the provincial government have their food and agriculture departments. These departments have established marketing sections equipped with professional people. These marketing sections should acquire wheat directly from the farmers and sell it in the open market and should also provide wheat to the flourmills. This exercise would facilitate the peasants and they will get the price of their product fixed by the government. The recent increase in purchase price of wheat is a good gesture but the prime minister should also know that a mere price increase, without embarking on a more comprehensive approach, may benefit a few big land holders but a heavy burden will be thrust on the shoulders of the common man who is already crumbling under the pressures of an unprecedented inflation. The writer is a senior PPP leader