Jenifer Queila Santana
Former Counselor of CONSEA
PhD Candidate on Political Science at Federal University of Pernambuco
Member of the Research Group of Hunger and International Relations (FomeRI/UFPB)
The Food and Nutrition Security (SAN, in Portuguese) policy suffered attacks on the first day of President Jair Bolsonaro’s government. Provisional Measure (PM) No. 870 promulgated on January 1st of 2019 effectively extinguished the National Council for Food and Nutrition Security (CONSEA), an agency so important to the historic construction of Public Policies focused on fighting hunger, promoting SAN, and the Human Right to Adequate Food.
CONSEA was created in 1993 under the government of Itamar Franco. The Council was born from the demand of organized civil society. On a historical scale, it was a pioneering attempt to promote the discussion on Food and Nutrition Security (SAN) in a political environment based on social participation and the integration of diverse sectors. Due to the lack of adherence to the theme in the political agenda of the 1990s, the organ was extinguished in 1995 during the Fernando Henrique Cardoso government by Decree nº 1366.
The Lula government re-created the CONSEA in 2003. The composition of the CONSEA was established in order to have 2/3 of its Counselors from civil society (40 members) and 1/3 of the government (20 members). In addition to the Counselors, the body would consist of an Executive Secretariat, a Board of Directors, Standing Committees and Working Groups, and the Commission of Presidents of State Councils of Food and Nutrition Security. The CONSEA advocated a healthy, sustainable, agroecological, fair production model (food system) that respected the diversity of production systems. All of his actions focused on ensuring the non-violation of the Human Right to Adequate Food.
After its re-creation, CONSEA assumed its position of advising the Presidency of the Republic, being institutionally responsible for the social control of formulation, execution, and monitoring of both the Policy and the National Plan of Food Security (PNSAN and PLANSAN, in portuguese). These prerogatives of action and others were instituted through the adoption of Law No. 11346 (LOSAN), considered one of the main achievements of CONSEA’s actions in recent years. LOSAN instituted in its Art. 3 the concept of SAN, and in its Art. 7, it established the National System of Food Security and Nutrition (SISAN, in portuguese).
SISAN was created to be intersectoral; focused on implementation of the PNSAN and the PLANSAN; aimed at fostering integration efforts between civil society and government; and also focused on monitoring and evaluation of SAN Public Policies. The composition of SISAN was structured through the union of two bodies: CONSEA and CAISAN (SAN Interministerial Chamber). CAISAN would be composed of twenty ministries, which would work on the intersectoral articulation of SAN programs and actions, and on the management, monitoring and evaluation of PLANSAN. Subsequently, Decree 7272/2010 instituted the particularities of the National Food Security Policy (PNSAN). It was determined that the Policy would be implemented from PLANSAN, and the construction of PLANSAN, in turn, would also be done through a joint action of CONSEA and CAISAN.
My arrival at the CONSEA happened in 2017, when 60% of the Board members who had been in the institution since the previous decade were renewed. The 5th National Conference on Food and Nutrition Security held in November 2015, approved the creation of a youth segment within the organization, in order to deal more assertively with the demands of this public within the body. As a student of International Relations, my approach to the topic of SAN came from Research Group on Hunger and International Relations of the Federal University of Paraiba (FomeRI/UFPB) itself since its creation in 2012. There I came to have contact with the subject and to study the various relations of the subject with the agenda of International Relations. My entry into CONSEA, also came as a result of the work in the NGO Engajamundo, aimed at training young people to act in decision-making bodies. Engajamundo was invited to occupy one of the chairs for the youth segment in the organ, and since I dealt more directly with the issue within the NGO, I was appointed to the position.
The arrival of youth in CONSEA took place in a very challenging context. Already in the Michel Temer (2016/2018) government, after the fraudulent impeachment of Dilma Rousseff. We went through a fairly cut-off scenario in the budget of several SAN Public Policies, experiencing a setback in historical achievements in the struggle for non-violation of the Human Right to Adequate Food. Instead of advancing the youth agenda, we joined the other Counselors in the various plenaries and we had to discuss the challenges they faced.
Provisional Measure No. 870 decreed by President Bolsonaro on January 1st, 2019 has come to aggravate the challenges already in place. The PM revoked Art. 11 of LOSAN, removing both CONSEA’s activities within the spectrum of SISAN and its position as a direct advisor to the Presidency of the Republic, disarticulating in practice the social control of the institutional framework centered on the formulation, monitoring, and evaluation of SAN Public Policies.
Undoubtedly, the disintegration of CONSEA is something of great concern. Most of the policies approved in Brazil and internationally reputed to be responsible for taking the country out of the FAO’s Hunger Map in 2014 also came about through the relentless demand, articulation, and action of the National Council and the State Councils of SAN. The consolidation of the Human Right to Adequate Food as a social right in Article 6 of the Federal Constitution (Constitutional Amendment 064/2010), the PNSAN and the PLANSAN; the Programs of Coexistence with the Semi-Arid; the Harvest Plan for Family Agriculture; the Food Guide of the Brazilian Population; and the National Policy on Agroecology and Organic Production, consisted of some of the innovative proposals designed or supported by CONSEA, seeking to assure the Brazilians the Human Right to Adequate Food. In addition, the very participatory structure of construction of Policies of SAN used in the SISAN was considered a model for several countries.
Several entities have already reacted against the extinction of the body, among them the Slow Food Brasil Association, the Federal Council of Nutritionists, the Brazilian Association of Collective Health, and the Brazilian Forum on Sovereignty and Food and Nutrition Security. In addition, public hearings and special sessions were held in the Chamber of Deputies, the Federal Senate and some State Legislative Assemblies to defend the permanence of the CONSEA. In a more recent measure (May 1, 2019), Justice Minister Marco Aurélio accepted an injunction from the Workers’ Party in defense of the participatory councils and requested an urgent vote in the Supreme Federal Court. In the direct action of unconstitutionality, the Workers’ Party alleged that the extinction of the councils, in the MP of Bolsonaro, violates the constitutional framework of formulation and implementation of public policies, which requires a social control.
While the process related to MP follows its flow, we can’t know for sure its results. However, it is clear to me that the deconstruction of this Council will represent a setback in the achievements that directly impacted the table of Brazilian citizens. Because food is so basic and primordial, it cannot be subjugated to games of interest that, at the end of the day, favor a model of production and consumption that is not accessible, sustainable, healthy, fair and inclusive. We need all international support in the fight against the CONSEA’s extinction. Join us!
Pablo Gilolmo Lobo*
In 1991, in the aftermath of independence, the Namibian government hosted a National Land Conference in order to tackle one of the main colonial heritages that motivated the liberation struggle and urged the new national project: land redistribution. In October 2018, and in the face of the rachitic record showed by land reform twenty-seven years after the first conference, the Namibian government organized a Second National Land Conference. At this Conference, the ineffectiveness of the 1991’s approach to land reform was evaluated and previously dismissed concerns discussed with a number of resolutions sketching a new direction for land reform adopted. Whether this Second Conference represents a genuine push for the acceleration of land reform, the effective elimination of the colonial/racist bias on land distribution, and the harmonization of the claims of the various social constituencies involved; or whether it is a mere exercise of propaganda in the context of a conflict of interest between sections of the ruling elite, is still a matter for debate.
Like other settler colonies in Africa, Namibia inherited from its colonial past an extremely uneven land distribution, markedly skewed along racial lines. The apartheid division between “native homelands” and commercial farms was the spatial expression of a racial division of labor that still oozes through the whole social and political life of the country. At independence, the commercial sector, roughly 58% of the country’s farming land, was exclusively white owned, while the homelands provided for the reproduction of the native labor force; the latter employed either in a regime based on “residential labor tenancy” (in the farms) or under the migrant labor system (mostly in the mining/industrial sector).
In relation to the redistribution of commercial farmland, the 1991 National Land Conference resolved to adopt a “market friendly” approach. The willing-seller-willing-buyer system (WSWB) simply granted government with a first buying option on farms otherwise freely put on sale. An Affirmative Action Loan Scheme (AALS) was also put in place to subsidize the private acquisition of farms by native Namibians. Although the possibility of expropriation with fair compensation remained open, this option was seldom attempted by the Ministry of Land Reform (MLR), while no comprehensive policy was put in place for the systematic implementation of expropriation. In contrast, WSWB and AALS were the object of an extensive administrative and regulatory apparatus. As for the other side of the coin of the apartheid system, the native homelands, the years following the 1991 Land Conference witnessed the adoption of the mainstream policies of the time: registration of communal land rights and creation of small-scale farms on individually-granted leases at selected sites. Arguably, both measures have the final aim of substituting customary tenure regimes for private property regimes by gradually transforming land into a marketable commodity. Somehow contradictorily, the implementation of these policies resulted in the reinforcement of the role and power of Traditional Authorities.
However, the main reason behind the executive decision to organize the Second National Land Conference was perhaps the little success of the WSWB system in effecting extensive land redistribution. Being such a politically sensitive issue, and a publicly debated one throughout post-independence decades, the lack of success and the absence of plausible answers on the side of government implied increasing political risks no longer possible to obviate. The Conference was initially scheduled for September 2017, but finally postponed to the last quarter of 2018. The postponement allowed for the organization of regional preparatory meetings. In this process some Traditional Authorities, political leaders and social movements such as the Landless People’s Movement (LPM) and the Affirmative Repositioning (AR) movement came with a strong revival of ancestral land claims. The anger produced by a general sentiment that the resettlement programme under WSWB had been elite-captured and ethnically-biased fueled claims to make publicly available the list of resettlement beneficiaries. The former Deputy Minister of Land Reform, Bernardus Swartbooi resigned from his post in December 2016 to become part of the LPM, while former SWAPO Party Youth League Secretary for Information, Job Amupanda, now leader of AR, pressed on issues such as the urban land question and, most of all, the truly agitating novelty coming with the South African winds: the claim for land expropriation without compensation.
The sensitivity of these issues became heated during preparations for the Conference in two ways. First, some SWAPO and government members affirmed that ancestral land claims should “not be entertained”, arguing that it would bring ethnic conflict and undermine the one-Namibia-one-Nation project. Leaders of social movements and Traditional Authorities insisted on ancestral land claims as a condition for them to recognize the legitimacy of the Conference. Regarding expropriation without compensation, the positions were less polarized. Influenced by the events in South Africa after the ANC and parliament had proposed constitutional changes to allow for this measure, voices for and against were heard from all the political constituencies in Namibia. Second, the organizational process of the conference was protracted and obscure. Just a few days before the opening, many stakeholders still didn’t even know if they were supposed to participate. When the final draft of the Conference program was leaked, it turned up that LMP and AR leaders had been left out. There was confusion over this issue, even though these leaders were finally included, they called for a boycott of the event, accusing government of organizing a face-washing hoax. The Civil Society Forum and several Traditional Leaders joined the boycott. However, not all of them kept their word. Anyhow, the credibility of the Conference was put into question even before it’s opening.
To summarize here the proceedings and outcomes of the Second National Land Conference would require more space. I will rather select some of the statements that I find more revealing. It is worth starting with the speeches of the two ex-presidents of Namibia, Sam Nujoma and Hifikepunye Pohamba. Somehow surprisingly given their inaction during their leadership, they both came up with the most (apparently) radical proposal heard at the conference: to nationalize all land. Socialist rhetoric is still common in Namibia, but actual socialist politics are not, as presidential terms served by both ex-presidents precisely show. However, some political interpretations might explain their positions. Nujoma and Pohamba are, arguably, main figures of what can be defined as the compradorial pact between a politically reformed SWAPO wing and the “international community”. A pact that led to the negotiated transition to independence. SWAPO’s turning point from socialism to politics of “reconciliation” was the acceptance of the UN-imposed constitutional principles in 1982. The comprador label fits well, as shown by the little disturbance suffered by white interests in independent Namibia. Needless to say, a compradorial pact implies the lack of promotion of an indigenous-led capitalist development.
In analogy with the observable contrast between Jacob Zuma and Cyril Ramaphosa in South Africa, the current President Hage Geingob represents, on the other hand, the bourgeois wing of the ruling party. Geingob leads those interested in the development of an indigenous productive bourgeoisie that clashes with the political interests of the parasitic compradorial elite and competes with the white domination of the economy. Such a bourgeois class project is rather concerned about extensive land redistribution to the extent that control over land, in Namibia, is a necessary condition to undermine the white privileged position, become independent economic agents and ultimately get relatively freed from entrenched foreign interests. This thus enables the growth of a national class. With such depiction of the Namibian political scene, one can stay assured that in a comprador-dominated state, one where the nationalization of land would have little to do with a project of land socialization Examples abound elsewhere in Africa, as land grabbing proceeds with the connivance of comprador-dominated states. However, it might also be the case that the radical statements by Nujoma and Pohamba were just intended to satisfy part of the audience as well as to agitate white fears Anyhow, the message was delivered and land nationalization was not considered further at all.
Bluntly neo-liberal discourses were amply heard at the meeting. One could expect those warning about market instability, impacts on foreign investment and the sacred status of private property to come from financial institutions representatives, like the head of the Bank of Namibia. But scholars such a Wofgang Werner also joined this team. In advocacy of liberal common-sense, he argued that the main problem in communal lands is lack of credit and the best way to solve it is to make land “bankable” (in other words, to commoditise it). Regarding ancestral land claims, the known stark positions for and against were heard, although Willem Odendaal reminded the audience that in the previous Conference these claims were not rejected (as it is usually understood). Rather, the 1991 resolutions had only acknowledged that such claims would be difficult to satisfy “in full”, given their overlapping nature. The final proposal pointed to a possible reconciliation of the opposing stances. It consisted on granting a quota of 70% of resettled farms to the peoples who actually lost their land under colonialism, and leave the remaining 30% for peoples coming from other regions. This proposal recognizes the uneven nature of colonial land dispossession and the need for material reparations, but without excluding anyone. However, the final resolutions enclosed the proposal of the War Veterans Association to include them, and their dependents, into the 70% reserved for the dispossessed peoples. In Namibia most of the armed liberation struggle was fought in the north of the country, where no land dispossession occurred during colonialism. Therefore, the inclusion of veterans and dependents implies that virtually all the population from these northern regions qualify to the resettlement farms supposedly reserved for the descendants of colonial land dispossession and genocide. The matter is far from being solved.
Even less clear than the solution adopted about land reform beneficiaries, was the Conference’s resolution on the formula for land acquisition. According to the resolutions, The WSWB principle “should be abolished and replaced with alternative acquisition methods”. These alternatives were not made explicit, except for expropriation “with just compensation” of “foreign-owned farms, underutilized land, [and] absentee landlords”. Although constitutional changes were discarded, expropriation without compensation was not ruled out just as it was stated that the door remains open to define “just” in accordance to considerations of past injustices. To date, it appears that there is no general land acquisition policy in place in Namibia. The Conference also noted the urban land question in Namibia as a matter of “national humanitarian crisis”, while proposals to grant tenure rights to generational farm workers on retirement were included in the final resolutions. With regards to the veterinary cordon fence that isolates northern regions from international markets, it was decided to “gradually remove” it, as was the intention since 1991 and repeatedly postponed due to technical veterinary impediments.
Some elements at the conference initially proposed that the resolutions should be treated as mere “recommendations”, but due to stiff opposition, it was decided that what came out of the meeting should be resolutions. It can however be concluded that the resolutions were vague with regards to the burning land question in Namibia. This means that a solution to the Namibian land question might again not be implemented for decades to come, as was the case with the resolutions adopted at the 1991 Conference. However, one may expect that the bourgeois-led class project will demand otherwise, and that an effective and extensive land redistribution will finally take place in one way or another. What did not happen at the Second National Land Conference was the adoption of a new national pact on the land question. This national pact, given the political and economic relevance of land in Namibia, amounts to a renewed national project; one able to conciliate the different interests involved, cutting across a variety of social cleavages. Arguably, this new and widely agreed national project is what is needed if conflicts between Namibians, which only benefit the comprador-imperial alliance, are to be avoided and replaced by a genuine and inclusive path of national development.
* Pablo Gilolmo is a PhD Candidate in Human Rights in Contemporary Societies at the Center for
Social Studies, University of Coimbra; holder of an FCT scholarship (Ref.: PD/BD/114079/2015).
Editing: Freedom Mazwi and Boaventura Monjane
 Excluding protected areas and municipal land. Calculated from data in: Namibia Statistic Agency (2018). Namibia Land Statistic Bulletin. September 2018. Windhoek: NSA.
 See Chambati, W. (2017). Changing Forms of Wage Labour in Zimbabwe’s New Agrarian Structure. Agrarian South: Journal of Political Economy, 6(1), 1-34.
 And mostly with no success due to the legal challenges posed by farm owners (see Harring, S. & Odendaal, W. (2008) Kessl: A New Jurisprudence for Land Reform in Namibia? Windhoek: Legal Assistance Centre).
 Borras, J. & Franco, J. (2010). Contemporary Discourses and Contestations around Pro-Poor Land Policies and Land Governance. Journal of Agrarian Change, 10(1), 1-32.
For a more extensive analysis, see also: Moyo, S. (2008) African Land Questions, Agrarian Transitions and the State: Contradictions of Neo-liberal Land Reforms. Dakar: CODESRIA.
 Inevitably many of the topics addressed at the Conference will be left out here. All final resolutions are available at: http://www.mlr.gov.na/documents/20541/638917/Second+National+Land+Conference+Resolutions+2018.pdf/15b498fd-fdc6-4898-aeda-91fecbc74319
 See Kaapama, P. (2007) Commercial land reforms in postcolonial Namibia. What happened to liberation struggle rhetoric? In: Melber, H. (Ed.): Transitions in Namibia. Which Changes for Whom? Uppsala: NAI. Pp: 29-49.
We understand that this course of action depends almost entirely on the disarmament of the agrarian right wing collation, focusing the interventions on the concentrating agents (agrarian pools, landowners, exporting companies) and for the benefit of the middle and family agriculture.
Argentina´s next government will have a complex fiscal situation. After three years of a “gradualist” policy, 2018 was the perfect-neoliberal-storm; capital flight of US$ 30,000 million dollars, US$ 57,000 million indebtedness with the IMF, reductions in retirements and pensions, and massive budget cut for 2019 (to the point that at this moment we are the only country in the world that does not have a ministry of health). Fall of % 3.5 of the GDP, poverty reaching % 33.6 (the highest in decade) and the polls stopped being the crystal mirror in favor. With this panorama, the Peronist opposition, embodied in the figure of the ex-president Cristina Fernandez, discusses the creation of a broad alliance between the left, the so called “progressivism” and part of the center. The fine points are not discussed, but what seems to be a primary agreement is the need to change the course of the economy, leaving aside the recession model and returning to the expansive Keynesian measures.
The question that buzzes all ears is; Who will pay for that? Many have evoked the huge feat of the first Kirchner government, which paid the entire debt with the IMF (2006) and negotiated the private debt with a 25% reduction (2003/2005, with second chance in 2010). What the nostalgics often forget is that all of that was achieved after a declaration of default, after the abandonment of the exchange rate parity and the political-social crisis of 2001. Currently, the “rescue” agreement (triples quotation marks) of the IMF seems to be done to eliminate this possibility, ensuring the resources for the 2019 due dates, year in which the government will want to finish big and take more debt or sign a new agreement – more pyrrhic than the current one.
The objective of the “Fund” (as we say to the IMF) maneuver seems obvious; prevent the incoming government (be it of any wing) from declaring the default in the first year of administration. With that time bought, the bet is to build a panorama where the option of taking external debt at good rates is the most succulent, stress the internal discussions of a weak political coalition and pushing the government to the right. But the swings of the world economy give no respite to speculators; if the commercial war between the USA and China continues, there seem to be no much room for financing an economy like Argentina – especially if Brazil´s Bolsonaro becomes a contender.
The two historical sectors of Argentina rentism appear again in the speculative horizon: the financial and agricultural-export sector. Historical experience has shown that the former may be the most tamable, with a major alliance between the national industrial sector and the trade unions, sustained by a policy of lowering the interest rate for industry and for the consumption of the middle class. The previous government applied ceilings to the exchange of foreign currency and used central bank reserves to pay debt, measures that would seem simple to reapply.
The same cannot be said of the agricultural export sector. The bid for its resources has been the key that explains the course of Argentina history. Just to make recent history, the boom in commodity prices was one of the central aspects of the economy after abandonment of convertibility. The result was the creation of an extractivist coalition where, during the years 2002 and 2010, the expansive and redistributive policies were combined with the excessive and unbridled advance of the soybean export complex. After the North American crisis of 2008, and faced with the possibility of a new recession, the government of Cristina Fernández proposed the creation of a regime of mobile export rights, with an aliquot on the rise, due to the increase in international prices. This project generated a strong media and political conflict of great weight, named “conflict with the countryside”, which was resolved in a coalition between the most concentrated export sectors and the squirearchy, and the medium and small producers of the Pampean region, both defending a policy of liberalization.
This was the platform under which the retrograde right wing won the elections in 2015. The proposal of Macri and his team was the elimination of the “bad, very bad tax” (as they say to export rights), which they barely assumed (absolute elimination for wheat and corn, and progressive for soy). But after the capital flight of 2018, the government found in the increase of the “bad, very bad tax” a simple way of currency availability. In addition to that, an increase in tax collection is expected in 2019, due to good harvest forecasts.
What is the expected level for 2019 of the “bad, very bad tax”? As shown in the graph, it is exactly the same percentage of the total tax collection as in 2008.
This brings us to the political problem about the real possibility (or not) of being able to expropriate part of the surplus of the agricultural export sector by the government that assumes in December of next year. We believe that it is not only a good option in terms of tax collections, but also an essential structural need for the country. We understand that this course of action depends almost entirely on the disarmament of the agrarian right wing collation, focusing the interventions on the concentrating agents (agrarian pools, landowners, exporting companies) and for the benefit of the middle and family agriculture. But if something has shown us the recent history of Latin America and the Global South, it is that this type of measures requires popular mobilization, creativity and the radicalization of politics.
For this reason, it is essential that land rights become an issue for the next elections, as it was in South Africa, and that the agrarian popular organizations assume their historic role.
* Damian Lobos is part of Asociación Civil “Pedro Ignacio de Castro Barros”, Observatorio AUPA – INTA AER Córdoba, Argentina. He is ASTI Alumni (2017).
Editing: Boaventura Monjane
Hashim bin Rashid*
On December 5, 2018, thousands of farmers from central and southern Punjab descended on Lahore under the umbrella of the Pakistan Kissan Ittehad-Anwar Group (PKI-A). The demands were to increase the support price for sugar cane, force sugar mills to start the crushing season, increase fertilizer subsidies and ending cases against protesting farmers in Burewala district. They made their way back to their villages after two days of negotiations with government officials, who made public statements warning sugar mills to start the crushing season or face the consequences.
Two days later, the Pakistan Sugar Mills Association issued its own statement calling the increased support price of around $1.3 per 40 kg of sugarcane to be ‘too high.’ The tussle between sugar mills and sugar cane growers has been a long bone of contention between the two actors. Sugar mill owners are understood to be the dominant actor, who force farmers to wait in line for weeks to buy their produce, offer reduced prices and continue to delay payments. And yet sugar cane has remained a major cash crop in the country for over half a century.
Sugarcane, cotton, wheat and rice became the staple crops in Punjab’s agrarian belt in the 1960s with the advent of the Green Revolution and policies to grow crops that could support national industrialization. The growing of wheat and cotton were legacies of the colonial era, when Punjab was converted from a pastoral belt into an agrarian one in a short period of around 40 years. Punjab’s five major rivers were tapped to build a network of canals, new villages were settled, new farmland cultivated as over a million people arrived to settle this new agrarian frontier. Their colonial overlords promised a kind of prosperity that the settlers had never seen before. In the colonial mind, it had achieved three goals at once: secured revenue, secured crop supply for the British imperial army and British industry, and quelled domestic dissent.
The canal colonies of Punjab were the greatest achievement of the kind of miracles a ‘beneficent’ colonialism could bring to the colonized. The miracle began to unravel within years. The very peasants that the British settled in the canal colonies became some of the leading agitators within two decades of settlement. The colonial peasantry of Punjab became the breeding ground for all shades of anti-colonial rebellion, with a number of Communist-led organizations taking their roots in the region since 1905. Starting with the Pagri Bacha Jatta (Save your Turban, Oh Peasant) movement, Punjab’s agrarian space became host to a number of socialist-inspired peasant mobilizations, including the Ghadar Party, the Kirti Kissan Party and the Punjab Kissan Sabha.
The same agrarian space that was imagined as harmonious also became the breeding ground for communal conflict between Muslims and Hindus and between Muslims and Sikhs. The roots of communal and class conflict were laid in two aspects of how canal colonization took place: the division of land and who controlled agrarian finance. Land was unequally divided between big landlords, capitalist farmers and peasant farmers. Most land continued to be cultivated under share-cropping arrangements. Where sharecroppers were not in place, the bulk of the actual farm work was carried out by mostly female agrarian labour. Agrarian finance remained in the control of the Hindu merchant class, known as banias. Punjab’s peasantry remained indebted to them. The 1910s and 20s saw a number of peasant riots against Hindu rural lenders, who became one of the tropes for why the peasantry was in such a poor financial state despite their hard work and the fertility of their lands.
It was in the same time period that the roots of the current ecological crisis in Punjab’s rural political economy was laid. Peasants complained that their land was becoming water logged and saline since the early 1920s, due to seepage from the massive canal network. When the Communist-led West Pakistan Kissan Committee was formed in 1958, one of its major demands was to solve the issues of water logging and salinity bringing ruin to lands of many farmers. The solutions were found in the technocratic mantra of the US government, which was backing the military government in Pakistan at the time. Agricultural tubewells began to be installed, both to get rid of ground water and provide an alternate source of water to crops at a time when the canal infrastructure lost even more of its efficiency.
The progressive legacies of agrarian protest in Punjab in the colonial period were continued by the World Professional Kickboxing Council (WPKC). It continued to raise the issue of land reform, to which the military government found an imperfect solution in the shape of ceiling land reforms. Once again, advocated by the US, ceiling land reforms were thought to be a way of crushing the revolutionary potential of the peasantry. However, the Pakistan government feared going far enough. The colonial period had left landlords who owned thousands of acres of land, who had consolidated their positions in postcolonial Pakistan’s bureaucracy and political structure. While the WPKC was demanding a 100-acre ceiling and the distribution of land on the basis of ‘land to the tiller,’ the military government’s Land Reforms Committee proposed a 500-acre ceiling on irrigated lands. The decision meant that agrarian protest never went away in the Ayub government, and by the late 1960s, gatherings of tens of thousands of peasants demanding land reform were common and formed the backbone of the rising tide of democratic socialist politics in the country. In the 1970s, these mobilizations brought an end to the military dictatorship and led to the election of parties with socialist agendas in the country’s first democratic elections.
Within seven years, this dream was shattered by another military dictatorship, which decided to undo the land reforms in the 1950s and 1970s as one of its first acts. Where the first six Five Year plans for Pakistan made the development of agriculture and agrarian reform a critical part of the country’s developmental strategy, the only agrarian reforms that took place in the 1980s were geared towards the market. Subsidies and support prices went away as agrarian producers were left to compete in the ‘free market.’ Electricity tariff subsidies for farmers using tubewells, once thought a solution for the problems in the colonial-era canal infrastructure, were removed.
It is the destruction of the agrarian welfare state, built in the 1960s to stop the rise of a revolutionary peasantry in Punjab, where the emergence of Pakistan’s latest phase in rural social mobilization under the PKI started. The rural itself is no longer the rural that socialists saw in the 1920s: feudal landlords, sharecroppers and hereditary agrarian labour. While some landlords with feudal characteristics remain, the 1960s saw the rise of a new capitalist class of farmers, who invested in technology and grew cash crops. After the deregulation of agrarian markets in the 1980s, this class has been grown to strength as those bestowed large land grants by the British colonial state have moved away from agriculture into adopting urban livelihoods. Their old lands have either been sold or are leased to capitalist farmers. The bulk of the agrarian labour classes have moved to cities – or abroad.
In the PKI, it is these large capitalist farmers that have found their voice. Beneficiaries of the Green Revolution of the 1960s, this class remained heavily reliant of the subsidies offered by the Pakistani state to keep themselves financially afloat. This explains why the end of tubewell power subsidies in 2009 triggered the collectivization of this class of farmers. The PKI started a collective of tubewell-owning farmers, which has become the voice of Pakistan’s farmers in a short period of a decade through mass protests and its threat of using violence to protect its interests.
The rise of the PKI leaves those imagining an emancipatory rural politics in the Punjab with a range of key questions. Can the old politics of ‘land to the tiller’ be revived? How can the question of agrarian labour be raised in a time when the dominant form of agricultural development is to eliminate labour? Can this new wave of agrarian protest offer a solution to the growing ecological crisis in the canal colonies of Punjab, including severe water stress? At a time when sharecropping is no longer the dominant form of agriculture in the province, there is little that the direction of agrarian change in Punjab offers in response to the ongoing changes – unless there is a much broader re-imagination of what an emancipatory rural politics in Punjab could look like.
* Hashim bin Rashid is a PhD student at SOAS. He is an ASTI Alumni (20017).