Agriculture — dying or dead?

We grow the best fruits, vegetables, cotton, wheat and rice but gain very little, and even suffer losses

Rasul Bakhsh Rais July 21, 2015
The writer is a professor of political science at LUMS

It is not without sociological reason that what we describe as art or the science of growing anything out of soil is suffixed by culture. It has two aspects, economic, that relates to production and organisation, and the socio-cultural, that is about the relationships it establishes among peoples, persons and communities. It is unfortunate that since Karl Marx’s very mechanical and materialistic interpretation of historical progression, generation after generation of superficial intellectuals have dubbed agricultural relations as primitive, exploitative, and more importantly, of an age that is long gone. Often, land-based relationships are dismissed or caricatured as feudalistic and land-based communities and their culture also labelled feudalistic. It is a popular refrain of urban intellectuals that have hardly any deep understanding of these communities, except for a few pieces of ‘research’ designed to prove how every thinker and revolutionary from Marx to Mao was right about collectivisation of land. The cycle of history and the sentiment of real people have proven all of them wrong, at least on this issue. But the thinking of our contemporaries on land and agricultural relations remains stuck in the mud of historical materialism.

I do admire these thinkers and their works, and of course their intellectual contribution to human sciences, however, I find their mechanical understanding of human relations too superficial to explain the complex affairs of human relations. I find the approach reductionist at best. There runs an unconscious influence of Marxism on the Pakistani liberal- intellectual and politician, whether it is on land-tenure or production issues. There seems to be a thick layer of urban prejudice against rural folks and their ways of living, thinking and relating to one another. In their barrages of critique, one finds hardly any depth, intellectual rigour or empirical reference, except the sterile activism to ‘end feudalism’.

A hardworking agriculturalist in Pakistan, mostly involved in self-owned farming, finds it hard to get recognition of his contribution to the national economy, society, and most importantly, preservation of culture of communities. While I have been an academic for the last four decades, and will be till the end, I am a proud farmer, an agriculturalist in my body and soul and will remain till the end. Let me explain to you the rotten policies of our government, and on the top of it, the rotten thoughts of disgust among the urbanites regarding farmers. Like most first-generation urbanites, I come from an agricultural community — a heritage that defines our identity and culture. It is in those communities and land where our roots are, and we will never abandon them. Doing so, even with all the losses and the meagre earnings from huge investments will be emotionally devastating for us.

It is not emotionalism or idealism that keeps our spirits high; there was, in my case, a sound economic reason as well when I invested in agriculture — as a long-term pension fund. By barely staying little over the red for decades, I find it is not climate change or bad luck, but the exploitative policies of our federal and provincial governments that rob us of our rightful share. We grow the best fruits, vegetables, cotton, wheat and rice — better in flavour, aroma and nutrients than anywhere else in the world amid harsh weather conditions, but gain very little, and even suffer losses. Beginning with inputs, they are costly — seeds and pesticides are sub-standard, often spurious and urban-based speculators, middlemen and exporters manipulate the market. They form buying cartels, and with the connivance of bureaucrats and politicians, import grains and pulses when our crops start reaching the markets.

It is just our deep faith in our community and heritage that keeps us going, not the economic rationale anymore. But, for how long will that last?

Published in The Express Tribune, July 22nd,  2015.

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Realist | 8 years ago | Reply The author made fool of people with political science for four decades now thinks of agricultural heritage. What a change!
Sandip | 8 years ago | Reply Is there any scientific study which will prove what the author says and what every pakistani claims- that Pakistan grows everything best in the world. And if that's the case, how come Pakistanis who are always supposed to be the best at what they do, cannot do anything about their country. It's good to be patriotic, but it's foolish to lie about it. That too when all facts point to the contrary.
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