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Their workers make up nearly half of the rural population, own no land, and toil as sharecroppers, day laborers, or under debt bondage. For generations, the only land most of them have been able to call their own is the plot for their grave.
But solutions exist. In neighboring India, a number of individual states are now granting cost-free ownership of house-and-garden plots of about a tenth of an acre (slightly bigger than a tennis court) to the landless poor. Last year, India's central government, eager to make further progress on the issue of landlessness and to undermine a persisting Marxist rebel movement, pledged $200 million to help buy lands – earmarked to become another 2 million microplots – at market price.
In some Indian states, existing public land can meet much of the need. Just one acre of land can decisively supplement the livelihoods of 10 landless families, give them status, and end their dependence on local landlords for a house site.
In Pakistan itself, Sindh Province has distributed 43,000 acres of government-owned land since 2008, mostly to poor rural women. That distribution has been of much larger plots (about 10 acres), but the same quantity of land could reach more than 400,000 landless families using the smaller house-and-garden plot model. Indeed, Punjab Province, Pakistan's most populous, is now distributing one-quarter-acre plots to an initial 1,500 landless families, using government land.
The house-and-garden small-plot model reduces the amount of land required, allowing the government to acquire the land voluntarily, at market price, or use underutilized public land.
As the floodwaters that covered one-fifth of Pakistan recede, it is clear that new grain crops on landlords' fields may not grow successfully for up to a year. But fast-maturing vegetable crops on newly allocated micro-plots could come much sooner, and on a repeating basis.
An area equal to 5 percent of the inundated lands would be sufficient to give 1/10th-of-an-acre plots to all of Pakistan's landless.
Huge amounts of assistance are now flowing into Pakistan from the world community, some for immediate relief, but some for the longer term. Islamabad and the provinces, with the support of the international community, should embrace giving microplots to the landless to ensure that the laborers who didn't drown in their landlord's fields are afforded a chance to build better lives for themselves, creating greater stability in Pakistan, and in turn furthering global security.
Roy Prosterman Prize.