2.A. Forms of Land Tenure

There is very little information on land tenure systems in Pakistan and their distribution. The frequent reference to the traditional revenue systems (zamindari, mahalwarj, ryotwari, etc.) is not very revealing either. While they are important for understanding the historical development of the current land tenure situation, they are not of much use in explaining the present tenure conditions. The Agricultural Census of Pakistan distinguishes three forms of tenure: owners' farms, tenants' farms and owner-cum-tenants' farms, but as there is a wide variation within these three groups, census figures explain to a very limited extent only, the current land tenure situation. The census does not provide any information on patterns of ownership and actual managing units.

In view of this situation, an attempt is made here to classify the rural households in seven land tenure categories which are meaningful from the standpoint of rural development (Tribal tenure systems, including the sardari system, are not dealt with here). The number of households given for each category is a rough estimate derived from the available census information and is intended to give an order of magnitude only* In this chapter the situation at the beginning of the 1960s is outlined while the changes brought about by the green revolution and its consequences are explained in the following chapter.

The seven important land tenure categories and their characteristics, as in the early 1960s are as follows:

1. Landlords

This type of tenure comprises persons owning more than 150 acres of irrigated land or 300 acres of non-irrigated land. They number about 12 000 - 15 000. The productivity of these estates - before the green revolution - varied greatly. The cropping intensity of the land was lower than in any other category. The benefits of economies of scale played no role as these farms were not cultivated in one unit but divided into numerous small plots which were cultivated by tenants, usually under the batai-system 1/ This also determined he cropping system. Crops easy to control and to distribute after the harvest, i.e. especially grain, were favoured, and animal husbandry, the cultivation of vegetables, etc. hardly played any role. The landlord's interest in his land varied and, in many cases, he left control of his land to a supervisor, while he lived in town as an absentee landlord. His life style was quite different from that of the rest of the rural population, and landownership was often not only a means of earning a living but also a source of prestige and economic power which, again, was the basis of political power. The role of the landed aristocracy on the political scene of this country is too well known to deserve detailed description. The relation of landlords and tenants was feudalistic: economic dependency of the tenant who had to be personally loyal to his landlord, often reciprocated by the customary responsibility of the landlord for his dependents, i.e. help in need, old age and illness, representation in matters to be settled with outsiders, etc* While many landlords fulfilled their duties in this patriarchalistic relationship, the feudalistic system offered possibilities for exploitation, and many tenants were literally at the mercy of their landlord. Under that system, capital formation was completely left to the landlord who, from his income, had to maintain roads, canals, etc., (partly with the unpaid labour of his tenants)* However, a landlord's lifestyle involved quite a bit of capital transfer from rural to urban areas in the form of urban houses, children's education, migration of family members to town and engagement in business activities, and considerable spending on luxury items instead of promoting agricultural development.

2. Small landlords

This category comprises persons owning 25 to 150 acres of irrigated land or the equivalent amount of barani land. 2/ Their number has been estimated to be about 200 000 to 250 000. Holdings above 25 acres, usually require more than two pairs of bullocks for cultivation, and in 1960 self-cultivation was not so much in vogue as it is today; the land was frequently rented out to tenants while the owner merely supervised. Much of what has been said about the category of Landlords applies here as well, tout on a more limited scale* The main difference between the two groups - apart from the acreage owned and income earned - is that the latter consisted less frequently of absentee owners and took more interest in the cultivation of its land. This often led to a stricter supervision of tenants, literally control during day and night. On the other hand, a more personal relationship resulting from life-long and sometimes hereditary relations was involved. The result of those landlords' greater interest in the land was a higher amount of capital formation and reinvestment in agriculture (levelling, land reclamation, improvement of irrigation, etc.). The improved economic condition of these small landowners who, compared to the masses of the rural people were better educated and better informed, gave them political power and influence. While political leadership at the national level is mostly entrusted to members of the first category, this group controls decision making at district or divisional level, and is often related to senior administrative officers. As will be explained later, this group underwent considerable changes while new technology was being introduced.

3. Family owner-cultivators

This group of landowners includes all those possessing 7,5 to 25 acres of irrigated land or a corresponding area of non-irrigated land. They number about 300 000. They personally cultivate their land with one or two pairs of bullocks, and in the upper size range, may hire a farmhand. Basically, however, fanning is a family enterprise and it is in this group that agricultural activities are not only a means of earning a living but also a way of life. Some owner-cultivators have increased their farm acreage by renting some land in addition to that owned. This group forms the upper class of the village society, especially if no landlord resides there. They enjoy relative economic security, reasonable income and the prestige resulting from being a landowner. Usually, they belong to a respected caste (zat) which improves their position even more. They control village politics, occupy posts at union council level, in cooperatives, etc. and are very often, excellent farmers with all the positive attributes of family farms, i.e. they achieve high cropping intensity and non-monetary capital formation to improve the farm, etc.

4. Marginal owner-cultivators

Persons belonging to this category own less than 7,5 acres of irrigated land or the equivalent, some of them renting areas to enlarge their holdings. They number about 1 600 000 and control about 3 600 000 acres of farm land. This group consists of subsistence farmers as the average farm size is only 2*2 acres. In addition, many of these small peasants have to work as agricultural labourers in order to earn a living, and farming their own land is frequently only a side- (part-time) occupation. Of all the groups, this is the one with the highest cropping intensity. The cropping pattern reflects the requirements for subsistence, and the limited acreage has to be used completely for food production so that hardly any land is left for fodder cultivation. People substitute labour for land by feeding their animals with grass and weeds collected by family members at roadsides, near canals, etc. As the acreage does not suffice for their subsistence requirements, this group is not involved in the marketing process (which means that they are not influenced by product prices). They earn the little cash they need for their meagre level of living as remuneration for manual labour on large farms, in road construction, etc., or from the sale of goods they are given as payment in kind for this work* This group is a permanent and secure labour resource for larger farmers. Because of their ownership pattern they are bound to the village, but have to look for additional employment opportunities locally and these are often available from large landowners only* Among some of the marginal cultivators, because of the frequent partition through inheritance, especially in the old settled districts, underemployment is quite common and a considerable number of this category belong to the rural poor. As landowners, they enjoy a certain prestige which, however, is not reflected in their economic welfare. Indebtedness often worsens their situation.

5. Tenants of better standing

This category is rather heterogeneous and consists of tenants with larger farms (over 1?.5 acres of irrigated land) and of those who, in addition to their rented land, have some acres of their own which gives them a certain status and security. They number about 750 000 and work on as much as 15 million acres of farm land. Some of them are tenants of government land. Others are rather independent tenants of a larger tract of land belonging to a landlord. Usually, their cultivation is of superior level and landlords often rent large areas to them because they improve the quality of the land by their good cultivation practices. The lease is usually for several years, often on written contracts, and those tenants are mostly independent of the landlord as regards cultivation. They are tenants in the European sense of the word and the shortcomings of Asian tenancy do not usually apply to them.

6. Tenants-at-will

The category of tenants-at-will comprises all other tenants and numbers about 1 800 000 cultivating about 8 500 000 acres of farm land. The most frequent system of tenancy for this group is the batai, in which the gross produce is shared by landlord and tenant, usually at a 50:50 rate, but with varying degrees of participation of landlords in the production costs. The lease is mostly without contract and for one year or one season only, often however, with prolongation for a long period but without security for the tenant. This lease arrangement hinders investment by the tenants, and the landlord also has little incentive, as proceeds are shared so that only half of the return goes to the investor. The peculiar landlord-tenant relationship influences the cropping pattern. As the landlord is interested in easily controllable and marketable crops, he discourages animal husbandry and cultivation of vegetables by tenants. The result of the high demand for land is that the acreage allotted to each tenant is small. Thus, the labour input of the tenant is high, and the landlord's share is positively influenced. This may lead to underemployment of tenants, at least seasonally, thus causing low income, indebtedness and increasing dependence of the tenant. On the other hand, few are in a position to supplement their income by offering their labour because landlords discourage this for fear that the cultivation of their land will be neglected. Tenants have little incentive to apply more labour than is customary to the land as they receive only 50 percent of the proceeds achieved with their extra efforts. Several attempts at improving the tenancy situation by legislation have failed because these laws are against the prevailing market procedure and are therefore difficult to enforce.

7. Landless rural labour

This group is composed of persons living mainly from the land, but with no direct tenure in land. Their relation to land is indirect: they provide their labour to landowners and cultivators against a share of the produce. The number of landless rural labourers is estimated to be about 550 000. It must be mentioned that the actual number of rural labourers is larger, but some succeeded in fulfilling their wish of owning or at least renting a little land and are, therefore, incorporated in the category of "marginal owner-cultivators" or "tenants-at-wi11". Among the rural labourers, one has to differentiate between three distinct groups:

a) The kammis or sepis provide the technical and social services which are necessary in a rural community and work, for instance, as blacksmiths, carpenters, potters, weavers, barbers, etc., and also perform certain social services. Their work is regulated by the customary "sep"-system which requires them to do all the necessary work in their special craft against an annual lump sum remuneration by the farmers of the village, or, in the case of a large village, by a certain group of farmers. In addition to their professional work, they have to provide their labour free of charge, except meals, to landowners for such activities as construction of houses, etc. Quite often, they are unemployed, but they have to be ready for work whenever summoned and are not allowed to offer their labour to other parties.

b) Permanent labourers have a full-time contract with a specific cultivator, usually on an annual or seasonal basis and often against payment in kind. They run no risk of being unemployed during the time covered by their contract, and very often their relation with a certain cultivator is long-lasting.

c) The largest group is that of casual labourers who have no definite relation to an employer, but offer their labour to whomevwr weeds it, such as in agriculture, road construction, transportation, petty trade and other escape jobs, or whatever they can find. Quite often, they do not find work at all and are unemployed. The poorest rural families are found in this group. That they can earn their living at all - especially in the more densely populated areas, where their number is large - is due to the unusually high wages paid at harvest time, when they are in great demand. Schematically, they earn their living by working at harvest rate (three times the normal wage rate for the long working day) for about three months per year (wandering to different areas), another three months at the normal wage rate, while during the remaining six months of the year they are unemployed. Their annual income in this calculation equals 12 times the normal wage rate which suffices for a meagre living. At the time under discussion, the beginning of the 1960s, their number was growing rapidly on account of population increase in excess of new jobs. In areas with a higher concentration of landless casual labourers, their situation was steadily worsening.


1/ Rent system with rent paid in kind as a certain proportion of the produce (share-tenancy).
2/ Land dependent on rainfall for cultivation.