Erratic weather threatens livelihoods in Pakistan
In recent years, climatic stresses, particularly droughts and floods, have devastated yields and caused crops to fail for many farmers across Pakistan.
Erratic rainfall — particularly in rain-fed areas like Taxila, 20 miles northwest of the capital, Islamabad — has further exacerbated farmers' problems and led to a slump in yields. With four dry winters in a row since 2008, deciding which crops to grow, and if they should continue to cultivate traditional crops such as wheat, has become increasingly complicated for farmers.
Rain-fed areas contribute 12 per cent of the 24 million tonnes of wheat produced annually in Pakistan. Wheat is an important crop for Pakistan's agricultural economy, accounting for 3 per cent of GDP and earning around US$600 million in foreign exchange reserves through exports each year.
But with the rains now arriving in January rather than the second week of December — as reported by the Pakistan Meteorological Department in Islamabad — wheat yields have been falling, and many farmers are now abandoning the cultivation of their lands and moving to urban areas, where jobs are scarce and they eke out a living working in brick kilns, hotels or even begging.
With World Water Week underway and the global spotlight on water-related issues, Saleem Shaikh spoke to farmers in Taxila about their struggles to adapt to erratic weather patterns and their decisions over whether to continue with these traditional livelihoods.