Muhammad Naveed: “we are better off farming”

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Muhammad Naveed: “we are better off farming”

Muhammad Naveed, 22, is from a large family in Akhoon Bandi, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Pakistan. His two sisters and three of his brothers are married and live separately, the brothers having been given their own share of the family's land. Four unmarried brothers, including Muhammad, live with their parents and farm together.

Muhammad feels a strong bond with what he calls "the land of our ancestors". He explains: "Wherever a person works, he returns to the village. Our happiness and our sorrows are in this village. Our relatives live here… We have our own land, that's why we will live here and not go anywhere else."

The family grows a range of crops, as Muhammad describes: "We have cultivated wheat, cabbage, ladyfinger, gourd, pumpkin and tomatoes. Everything is according to its season. At this time it's loquat season." He gives a detailed account of what is involved in growing and marketing loquat.

Although agriculture is central to the extended family's survival, it does not cover all their expenses. Hiring tractors, transporting produce to market, purchasing fertilizers and occasional extra labour all eat into slim profits. But the biggest problem, according to Muhammad, is water: "First of all there is very little water, and then to irrigate we have to work day and night." He explains that families take turns to access scarce water supplies: "After many days we get our turn to irrigate."

The family has two buffaloes and a few cows and goats, largely looked after by Muhammad's mother. One buffalo's milk is sold; the other's is consumed by the family, including the married brothers' children. As well as farming, the married brothers all have other jobs – two as drivers, one as a tailor. Muhammad and an older brother still living at home also both take waged work when they can. Muhammad worked in a milk shop in Karachi for a year but the expense of city living eroded any savings.

Another job as a driver paid a little better: "…I was able to save about 4,000 rupees (48 US$)1... I would keep 1,500 rupees for my own expenses. And the rest I sent home to my father." The two youngest brothers are still studying.

With the money he made from the sale of another buffalo, Muhammad trained as a plumber and has paid a middleman who is trying to find him work abroad. He has heard nothing so far, but says, "I have also applied to the army, and also the police…" 

Despite their need for off-farm work, Muhammad is convinced that farming is essential, and preferable to unreliable and exploitative waged labour: "We want to continue [farming]. Without it we cannot run our household... And it's one's own work and so one works hard... When we do labour outside…[employers] stand on our heads to make sure we work... They also give wages at their own discretion... Sometimes they give the wages after a month. Sometimes 10–15 days after the end of the month" He concludes: "That's why working outside is very difficult. We are better at home. We are better off farming."


1/ Average exchange rate, (83.58 rupees = 1 US$) November 2009, Interbank rate, source: www.oanda.com