Pakistan's Agricultural Future: Addressing Rural Poverty, Exploitative Practices, & Low Productivity

In his book, "Development Poverty and Power in Pakistan," Syed Muhammad Ali, a development anthropologist, delves into the political economy of Pakistan's agriculture. Collaborating with Naurain Rana in this interview, an economist at the World Bank, Syed Ali highlights key discoveries from his work.

Pakistan's agricultural industry stands as a primary contributor to the GDP, accounting for more than 19% and engaging over 40% of the populace. Despite this, the farmers find themselves situated at the lower end of the socioeconomic hierarchy.

Furthermore, despite being an agrarian economy, the industry grapples with exploitative farming practices, resulting in the lowest agricultural productivity, which has contributed to a significant discrepancy between the nation's potential and actual output in the agricultural sector.

Syed Ali observes that while urbanization is evident, it remains unsustainable due to the proliferation of slum areas. This urban shift differs significantly from Western models, which historically relied on imperialism and colonization to fuel urban growth through access to raw materials and labor.

The process of "de-peasantization", combined with subsidized access to tractors but escalating seed costs, diminished the reliance on numerous sharecroppers. Managing a large workforce, even in an exploitative manner, became increasingly burdensome.

Another notable aspect is the concept that controlling land equates to controlling people. Large land ownership in Pakistan historically secured captive vote banks, with the military and feudal families holding significant stakes in agricultural land.

Over time, these feudal families evolved their sources of power as the military maintained a substantial interest in agricultural land.