LAHORE - The land inequality in provinces of Pakistan is reflected in glaring income inequality, as large landowner income is 31 times higher than the average income. The inequality has also imposed a state of chronic poverty for the landless, tenants and even the small farmers.

The feudal-tribal order has ensured the continuation of patriarchy, which rules with an iron hand in rural Pakistan. Women have almost no freedom to make independent choices about socialization, health care, children’s education and marriage, voting and voting choice, and even cell phone use. However, the level of conservatism varies with land size and pattern of tenure.”

This was stated in a report issued by the Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research (PILER). The report “Profiles of Land Tenure System in Pakistan” has been authored by Dr Kaiser Bengali, senior economist and Advisor to Chief Minister Balochistan. The study, first in many years, attempts to document the land tenure patterns as they currently exist in three provinces of Pakistan. Covering 1,200 respondents (with equal representation of male and female), the study records the disparity in incomes, food consumption, housing quality, impact of floods, indebtedness, and treatment of women in different categories of landowning and non-landowning classes. The conclusions are intended to guide the political debate regarding land issues towards more nuanced directions.

The analysis of land tenure patterns in the provinces of Pakistan shows considerable variation. Rural Sindh and Nasirabad Division of Balochistan are highly feudal, with 70-85% of the rural labour force working as tenants on sharecropping basis on lands belonging to large landlords. By contrast, south Punjab has under- gone radical changes, with sharecropping largely replaced by large- scale self-cultivation or leasing -a la corporate farming, report says.

Irrespective of the difference in land tenure patterns, there are some constants. Asset (land) inequality is stark. While a handful of large farmer families own thousands of acres of land, thousands of small farmer families own less than 5 acres each and thousands of tenants (in Sindh and Balochistan) farm plots of less than 5 acres each. The inequality is indicated by the fact that, for 6 districts in 3 provinces, 88% of small farmers (holding less than 12.5% of land) own 49% of land and 1.5% of large farmers (holding more than 150 acres of land) own 8% of land. Land holding and control over land by large farmers is said to be actually larger with many de jure small and medium landowners being de facto tenants.

“The centuries old sociopolitical structure of rural society in Sindh and Balochistan has remained more or less unchanged. The lack of employment and educational opportunities in secondary urban areas and the substandard quality of civic services has failed to create the pull effect for the rural population to break out of the feudal-tribal stranglehold.”

According to report, the peasantry is locked in villages that are characterized by derelict infrastructure, mud and straw housing, mud roads, unhygienic water supply, garbage dumps and sewage pools (in the absence of waste disposal facilities), and sub-standard educational and health facilities. The 2010 floods had washed away most of the villages and villagers who returned faced difficulty locating the site of their village and of their houses. The situation presented opportunities to re-build planned villages on high ground and with drainage to protect villages from future river and rain flooding. However, the feudal-tribal leadership opposed relocating the villages as they would lose control over their workforce and their vote banks -and, most of all, their debts.

The floods of 2010 affected large farmers and small farmers and tenants differentially. Generally large farmer houses are on higher ground and remained protected from the ravages of the floods. They also managed to move their livestock to higher ground. Small farmer and tenant abodes were located on low-lying land and were submerged and washed away along with their meager belongings. They remain vulnerable to flood damage in future as well. An indication of the differential losses is provided by the fact that large farmer losses accounted for less than one-fifth of the annual income, compared to 123% for the sample as a whole.

The debt situation throws interesting light on differential vulnerability, with the debt to income ratio ranging from xx for large farmers to xx for the sample as a whole. Access to formal credit decreases with declining land size. Large and medium farmers and lessees have access to formal sources of financing for most of their credit needs and tenants have no access at all. The money lender and the shopkeeper -in that order -are major sources of financing for small farmers, while the landlord, shop- keeper and money lender -in that order -are major sources of credit for tenants.

The purpose for which a loan is taken also reflects vulnerability. All large farmers have obtained loans for productive purposes: agricultural operations and purchase of land, livestock or supplies. However, two-thirds of small farmers and over 80% of tenants have obtained a loan for consumptive purposes: flood losses, medical expenses, etc. Loans for consumptive purposes do not lead to creation of new assets and has to be repaid from current income or from new loans. That small farmers and tenants have to incur debt for meeting household expenses is indicative to economic stress. And that they have to incur debt for meeting police and court related costs is indicative of involvement in criminal cases which they cannot manage through connections a la the landed classes.