Drought fears for wheat farmers

Drought-like conditions across Pakistan in December and January are worrying wheat farmers who fear large-scale crop failure.



“Things are looking dismal right now. The wheat crop, sown late last year, needs to be watered. It is our main crop of the year. The lack of rain is a disaster for those of us who depend on wheat,” Muhammad Fiaz, a farmer from the Vehari area of Punjab Province told IRIN.



“We need a good crop to survive,” he said.



Wheat is the biggest staple food crop in Pakistan, with about 22 million tons consumed each year, according to official statistics. Since 2007 there has been a ban on wheat exports.



“A shortage of wheat is devastating for us. Our children depend on ‘roti’ [flat bread]. I remember how hard it was to feed them when ‘atta’ [wheat flour] prices rose steeply in 2008,” said Humaira Bibi, a mother of four.



Head of Pakistan’s Meteorological Department Qamaruz Zaman Chaudhry told IRIN from Islamabad: “We have already been through two stages of drought - meteorological and hydrological - and are now heading towards agricultural drought.”



He warned this could lead to “crop failure”, especially in rain-dependent areas. Chaudhry blamed the unusual lack of winter rain on “El-Nino weather conditions in the Pacific Ocean”. These conditions are expected to last till the coming summer.



“I really do not care what the reasons are. The lack of rain means the water table is falling and it is hard even to grow vegetables for use in our house. Things are really looking very bleak, and there is still no sign of rain,” said Fiaz.



The water volume in rivers has fallen by 21 percent due to the lack of rain, while reservoir levels have dropped by around 34 percent since September, when the monsoon ended, according to media reports















Photo: Kamila Hyat/IRIN
The threat of food insecurity in Pakistan looms, with predictions of a severe wheat flour shortage

Prayers



On 22 January President Asif Ali Zardari prayed for rain and called on others to do likewise.



Ibrahim Mughul, president of the Agri Forum of Pakistan, an association of farmers, said: “Dry weather has affected the first watering of the wheat crop, even on irrigated lands.”



As a result, “we will lose at least one million tons in wheat output this year,” he said. Pakistan produced 24 million tons of wheat last year.



Over 71 percent of the wheat crop is grown in Punjab Province, mostly on irrigated land.



The current water shortage has been especially severe for farmers whose land is furthest from the network of canals which feed into irrigation systems across the Punjab.



“I have a one hectare farm near the town of Chishtian Sharif [in southern Punjab]. It is located at the end of the canal, and the water released into canals has been reduced this year, so hardly any reaches my lands,” Anwar-ud-Din, a local farmer, told IRIN, explaining: “Larger farmers are diverting water to their land, so we hardly get any.”



Winter rainfall throughout the country has been 30 percent below normal, according to the Met office.



“I saw on TV it is raining in Swat. Let’s hope the rain reaches us in the south as well,” said Fiaz.



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