Peoples’ Voice at UNEA-4

Statement of the Farmers Major Group at the fourth session of the United Nations Environment Assembly

Delivered by Mr. Wali Haider


Thank you chair.

Honorable excellences, distinguished delegates and colleagues:

I am Wali Haider from Roots for Equity, Pakistan and I’m speaking on behalf of the Farmers Major Group.

The dominant paradigm of unsustainable consumption and production continue to devastate and worsen the situation of the environment and the people along with promotion of Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights which force GMOs and commodification of seeds and water. This crisis is further compounded by unabted land grabs by the transnational corporations. This is manifest in the crises in food, climate, environmental degradation, reduced biodiversity, depleted natural resources, and increasing violation of people’s rights and exacerbating inequality.

The industrial model of agricultural production and perverse subsidies in the agricultural sector are destroying the sources of livelihoods of small-scale food producers and their communities, resulting in hunger and forced migration.

To tackle the challenges we are facing in nourishing a growing global population and ensuring food sovereignty require innovations. People-centred and community solutions are innovations and appropriate technologies that protect the environment, promote sustainability, community ownership, social solidarity and mutuality and based on development justice. Innovative solutions that make a difference in people’s lives are often not technological but social innovations, linked with traditional practices and based on indigenous and local knowledge systems. Dimensions of environment, economy and society, the three pillars of sustainable development, are all taken into account in people’s solutions and community innovations towards sustainable consumption and production.

It is proven that in food production, agroecology as a practice based on constant innovation of farmers, a science and a social movement, is known to improve soils, protect health and the environment, improve livelihoods, and increase household income. Agroecology also harnesses traditional and indigenous knowledge systems supported by people’s science and builds community unity. Continue reading

In the Belly of the River: Flooding the Landless

Nov 2014

The village of Kanwan Wali, a government sponsored tent community on an embankment vulnerable to flooding.

The village of Kanwan Wali, a government sponsored tent community on an embankment vulnerable to flooding. | Photography: Kasim Tirmizey

Kachchhi – sone di pachchhi.
Riverine land is a basket of gold.
– Punjabi proverb in the Shahpur District of Punjab1

Under a burning sun, the Khana Padosh tribe of the Moza Vehlan village in Multan tehsil make do with tattered and colorful patches of cloth and wooden sticks to construct their tents. After massive flooding inundated their village, constructed on katchi (riverine) lands, they have been forced to temporarily reside on a nearby band (embankment).

While the katchi lands are prone to flooding, the Khana Padosh say they have little choice but to live there. They would hardly describe the land they live on as a “basket of gold” as the old Punjabi proverb goes. The katchi was considered bountiful in the 19th century, when farming in western Punjab was done through inundated agriculture. It was a system that thrived on regular floodwaters making riverine lands fertile for agriculture. At that time, farmers would organize agrarian life according to the rhythms of floods. Other communities, such as the Khana Padosh, in this part of Punjab were nomadic pastoralists.

Western Punjab underwent massive transformation under British rule through the introduction of canal irrigation. This signalled the demise of inundated agriculture and nomadic pastoralism. The British were interested in increasing the agrarian frontier in order to provide cheap food2 in England and to gain greater land revenue through rent. In the new political economy, katchi lands were marginal and vulnerable territory.

The Khana Padosh tribe living on the embankment.

The Khana Padosh living on the embankment.

The Khana Padosh were historically a nomadic tribe that tended to livestock. The introduction of canal colonies interrupted that mode of life, however. The British considered many nomadic communities to be ‘criminal tribes’. That term, ‘criminal’, had less to do with the law, and more with the British government’s attempt to criminalize the entire nomadic pastoral way of life, seeing as it stood in opposition to their canal systems. The British demand to assimilate to a settler-farmer mode of life was, however, unconceivable for many nomadic tribes.

Today’s Khana Padosh tribe, like their forefathers, are technically landless. A local landowner has allowed the tribe to squat on a portion of the katchi land that he owns near the Chenab River for the sole purposes of temporary settlement.

Bashir Ahmed, of the Kanwan Wali village, is living temporarily on an embankment in a government sponsored tent community in Multan tehsil. Unlike the Khana Padosh, he and his fellow villagers work as sharecroppers on katchi land for a landowner. He explains why he and others live on the katchi: “Us, the poor, we don’t have any money or assets that [allow us to] live in the pakka [settled] areas. That is why we live in the center of the river. That is why we live in the katchi. We have to produce what we can so we can eat.”

Others from Bashir’s village commented that they live on the katchi because land there is cheaper to lease.

Azra Talat Sayeed, the director of the NGO Roots for Equity, which focuses on the political mobilization of peasant and labour communities, argues that the fundamental issue behind the impact of the floods is landlessness:

“Many thousands of these people live on the banks of various [rivers] which run the length and breadth of the country, only because Pakistan has failed to implement even the most rudimentary of land reforms, let alone a policy that would allow for a just equitable distribution of land. Feudal lords, who are fast changing into ‘corporate land lords,’ rule the country and millions of farmers are forced to eke out a very meagre earning by working as sharecroppers, agricultural workers or contract farmers. Others are forced to endanger their lives and livelihood by living in what could be called a ‘seasonal red zone’; no doubt global warming and ensuing climate change have exacerbated the situation.”3

Landless people and smallholders represent 92 percent of the population in present day Pakistan. For the rural poor, katchilands are the last resort for survival. While some nomadic tribes opted to settle in one area, have received small portions of land to practice agriculture on, the Khana Padosh tribe opted not to do so. The Khana Padosh do not have a history of agrarian life, nor do they engage in farming today. Farming has been a mode of life that requires an intense amount of apprenticeship and practice, and, most of all, access to land that is not vulnerable to severe inundation. The Khana Padosh say that they mostly continue to act as pastoralists, tending to livestock under contract with wealthy farmers. Others seek daily wages as labourers in the nearby city of Multan.

Communities across the katchi had a few days warning of the oncoming floods. These communities packed whatever houseware they could take with them, a few days worth of food, and headed towards the embankment.

Muhammad Ghulam with a basket that he made from wooden sticks to be sold in the market. This production continues in the embankment as means of livelihood.

Muhammad Ghulam with a basket that he made from wooden sticks to be sold in the market. This production continues in the embankment as means of livelihood.

“Our villages in the katchi have been totally inundated. Our homes have been destroyed,” Ghulam Muhammad of the Khana Padosh tribe told Tanqeed. “When we return to our village we will have to start from scratch. We don’t even have any food or tents. Things will worsen when the cold weather arrives and we are without proper shelter.”

While the government has been distributing basic rations and providing tents to some communities from the katchi, they have not given anything to the Khana Padosh.

“The government has not given us any rations. Nor do they allow us to sit in government sponsored tent communities,” says Muhammad.

Across Punjab, it is those villages that have connections with feudal lords or politicians that have generally been able to gain access to government rations. As the Khana Padosh are among the most marginalized of communities, they do not fit into the network of patronage. Bashir Ahmed says that they received government relief only after they repeatedly pressured officials into giving them their rights.

What are other possibilities for communities that live on the katchi in the face recurring floods? Roots for Equity has called for equitable redistribution of land as the only just way to address the issue. Without access to safe and fertile lands, millions will continue to reside on the vulnerable lands of the katchi. The Pakistan Kisan Mazdoor Tehreek (Pakistan Peasant Workers Party or PKMT) also advocates sustainable agriculture in the riverine lands. This is a medium-term measure to avoid the indebtedness that has resulted in the increasing entrenchment of corporate influence into agriculture in Pakistan.

In a field south of Multan tehsil, villagers who are members of the PKMT are experimenting with sustainable forms of agriculture. They are using a diversity of traditional, rather than corporate, seeds. They do not use pesticides and chemical fertilizers. PKMT realizes that the corporatization of agriculture is leading to the impoverishment of peasants. Opposing corporations and pro-corporate laws, such as the recent Punjab Seed Act of 2013, is necessary, but not enough. They also believe in creating their own alternative economies that are based on food sovereignty. Efforts are being made by some villages on the katchi in the Kanwan Wali village to transition to more self-reliant forms of agriculture.

But what do historical pastoralists like the Khana Padosh do when agriculture is not their calling? Equitable redistribution of land and ending a land-water ownership regime based on private property are important aspects within any long-term solution to the massive floods that have impacted the most marginalized of Pakistan in recent years. And no genuine land reforms will be possible without the mobilization of peasants, pastoralists, and labour.

Children of the village of Kanwan Wali on the embankment.

Children of the village of Kanwan Wali on the embankment.

The socio-ecology of Punjab is shaped by the legacies of colonialism as well as ongoing feudalism, imperialism, and corporate agriculture. Colonialism introduced commercialized agriculture, whereby the landscape of western Punjab was transformed, moving away from inundated agriculture and nomadic pastoralism and towards irrigated agriculture. In this transforming landscape, nomadic pastoralists were increasingly marginalized and rendered criminal. In addition, those tribes and sub-castes that were loyal to the British, especially during the 1857 war of independence were given large landholdings. Marginal communities such as the Khana Padosh were made landless in a territory that was increasingly ruled by private property, where their nomadic way of life was being made extinct.

Millions of other landless people opt to lease cheap land or squat on the katchi. This is despite the fact that this is a zone of recurring flooding. Global warming has been attributed to the expansion of capitalism,4 most evident in the greenhouse gas emissions from industrialization. The wretched of the world, it seems, only experience the exploitation and oppression of capitalism, and now they are further forced to squat on the most vulnerable of lands. Ironically, in the case of the Punjab, it was these very lands that used to be considered “a basket of gold”, not so long ago.

Kasim Tirmizey is a doctoral candidate at the Faculty of Environmental Studies at York University. He is currently based in Lahore, Pakistan.

  1. Wilson, James. Grammar and dictionary of western Panjabi: as spoken in the Shahpur District : with proverbs, sayings & verses. (Sang-e-Meel Publications, 2005).
  2. Patnaik, Utsa. in The agrarian question in the neoliberal era: primitive accumulation and the peasantry 7–60 (Pambazuka Press, 2011).
  3. Sayeed, Azra Talat. Communities Impacted by Floods in Pakistan. Roots for Equity (2014). at <>
  4. The connection between capitalism and climate change has been made in several places. More recently, Klein, Naomi. This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate. Alfred A Knopf, 2014.

National Consultation on Land Rights: A Policy Discussion with Stakeholders

Press Release

July 12, 2017

A national consultation was held on Land Rights: A policy Discussion with Stakeholders in Margala Hotel, Islamabad on 12th July, 2017 organized by Pakistan Kissan Mazdoor Tehreek (PKMT) and Roots for Equity.

The consultation was held in the context of Sustainable Development Goal 1 “ending poverty in all its forms everywhere” which specifies a target of “all men and women, in particular the poor and vulnerable, have equal rights to economic resources, . . . , ownership and control over land. . . .” In addition, Goal 2 aims to “End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture” by 2030, and also emphasizes equal access to land for small farmers. So, in essence, land rights is a core pillar for achieving a world without injustice, inequity, hunger, exploitation, and discrimination. No doubt, achieving universal human dignity is not possible without ensuring land rights of small and landless farmers, which comprise a majority of the world population.

Dr. Azra Talat Sayeed, Executive Director Roots for Equity contextualized the need for the consultation, and detailed the basic three fundamental structural causes that have led to increased landlessness: these included feudal control over land, globalization and neoliberal policies in agriculture with emphasis on corporate agriculture, agro fuel production, and immense increase in land grab due to mega development projects; and third climate crisis. She emphasized that lack of equitable distribution of has resulted in immense hunger and poverty among the farming communities especially for women and children. Way forward was based on genuine democracy with the basic foundation of accountability to the people.

Community leaders, Kabir Khan highlighted that Rakh Azmat Wala in District Rajanpur farmers are facing a dire situation as the government has evacuated farming communities that have tilled this land for more than a hundred years; in addition many farmers have been charged with various crimes and given more than one FIR. He demanded that the government should give the ownership of these land to the farmers instead of handing over the land to Chinese investors. Raja Mujaeeb another farmer leader from Ghotki, SIndh stressed that a very huge percentage of rural communities are landless and few individuals hold vast tracts of land which creates huge inequities in society. He demanded there should be just and equitable land distribution in the country. Riverine community youth leader Saleem elaborated that climate disasters, especially floods create constant havoc in riverine communities. He demanded that farmers in this area should be given permanent land so that they can access decent lives. Rubina Saigol said that women farmers must be given land based on equitable distribution. In addition, agricultural workers, especially women must be recognized as formal agricultural workers, and farmers. Various public representatives at the consultation provided their input. According to MPA Syed Aleem Shah, the government is acquiring land which is under state ownership, and it is the government’s legal right to take back the land for national interest. MPA Sardar Aurangaiz said in KPK government cannot agriculture land for industrial projects and housing schemes.  Ex MPA Syed Bedar Hussain Shah recommended that land should only be given to the farmers as well as social protection policies be developed for agricultural workers.

Major recommendations at the end of consultation were demanding equitable distribution of land among men and women farmers, and social protection to be provided for agricultural workers.

RELEASED BY: Pakistan Kissan Mazdoor Tehreek (PKMT) & Roots for Equity

Climate Change: a saga of disasters for riverine farmers in Pakistan!

The endless suffering of the riverine area farmers in Pakistan depicts the disaster that climate change is bringing to the most vulnerable marginalized communities. In March 2015, sudden rains and low floods had washed away the almost ready to harvest wheat crops of various villages along the Chenab River in the area called Ghanta Ghar, Mozan Nawabpur, Multan district; than later in July 2015 floods had forced communities to evacuate or live cut off from the rest of the city among the swirling waters. Daily coming and going became dependent on small row-boats which charged the villagers either per journey or even yearly payment of fixed amount of wheat grains. We have reported on their hardships earlier.


Now once again there are flood warnings being issued by the government. In early Ramazan (early June), government had raised to the ground some homes but then stopped, supposedly because of Ramazan. Now they are back. Bulldozers are smashing the small mud-houses to the ground. According to the government officials who are with the eviction team these people were given notices earlier and they have to be evacuated as this land adjacent to the river bank and the government has to reinforce the embankment (bund) called the Sipar Nawabpur Bund. According to the officials there they will be abolishing 700 housed within this week. The police has barricaded the area not even allowing people to remove their belongings or go near the site.

No doubt, there are expected flood but that is nothing new. If this land was not safe why were people allowed to sit here in the first place. Second, many people had purchsed land here after the 2010 Super Floods – why was land sold to these farmers if indeed this area was not safe?

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July 26, 2016

No doubt, there is a flood warning but where do the people go? Our shameless government officials are forcing people to evacuate without giving them an alternate abode.  Nobody allows them to put down their belongings and makeshift abode.


It is criminal that on one hand these people suffer from climate change calamities – dumped on their heads by the profit-driven capitalist growth – and on the other hand they are given no support from their own government. In a matter of 16 months, this is the third eviction that these communities are facing!

A farmer saving what he can of the destroyed wheat harvest. He will use the wasted crops as fodder for his livestock.

A farmer saving what he can of the destroyed wheat harvest. He will use the wasted crops as fodder for his livestock. March 2015


July 2015


May 2016

The Miserable Life of the Kacha Area Farmers: Facing Evacuation Once Again!

In the Jaws of Climate Change