Faisalabad: According to recent reports, Pakistan’s agricultural lands are being devoured by a rising housing crisis, which could have long-term implications for the country’s food security.
In recent years, in the northeastern Punjab and southern Sindh provinces, which are considered the country’s two main breadbaskets, growing population and housing needs have turned vast swaths of green land, not only in big cities but also in small districts, into concrete jungles.
Standing outside a gated housing scheme in a northern village 10 kilometers (6 miles) from northeast Faisalabad’s downtown, it’s hard to believe the modern villas were constructed on agriculture fields that once produced wheat, sugarcane, and other seasonal crops and vegetables, as well as being fodder for animals.
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It is one of the hundreds of similar schemes that have recently sprung up in and around the country’s textile hub on farmlands and orchards for more than a decade, guarded by smartly-turned security guards.
“Hundreds of farmers sold out their farmlands to the real estate developers in recent years, which has resulted in the form of these posh villas in and around the city,” said Nadeem Shahid, a village resident.
Farmers are being bid triple the market price by real estate developers, he says, a difficult temptation to avoid.
Significant parts of once lush green fields and jungles have been converted into housing schemes in the nation’s capital Islamabad, the commercial capital of Karachi, the cultural capital of Lahore, and other cities.
According to Shaukat Ali Chadhar, secretary-general of Pakistan’s Kisan Board, a non-governmental agricultural advisory and research body, about 20% to 30% of Punjab province’s fertile land has been converted to industrial units and housing schemes, accounting for 65 percent of the country’s total food requirement.
According to him, 70 percent of agricultural land in Lahore has been transformed into housing and industrial units, with 60 percent in Gujrat.
“In Lahore, the remaining 30% of fertile lands are safe just because of security reasons as they are located near the border with India,” he said.
He added that 30 percent to 40 percent of fertile land has been sold to real estate developers and industrialists in other agriculture districts in central Punjab, also known as mercantile Punjab, such as Faisalabad, Gujranwala, Sheikhupura, and Kasur.
He pointed out that the land-holding ratio in southern Punjab and northern Sindh, which together produce more than half of the country’s wheat, sugarcane, and cotton, is still satisfactory.