PAKPATTAN- Until recently, Ghulam Mustafa made a living growing sugarcane, rice, barley and wheat on his 10-acre farm in Punjab province.

But these days he is struggling. The water available in wells in the area is dwindling, and the cost of pumping it to his crops is rising. Like many other farmers in the area, Mustafa, 51, now plans to cultivate only half his land and leave the rest for his livestock.

"The groundwater level in our area has gone down around 15 to 20 feet in the last five to six years," he said. "And unfortunately it continues to decline each year."

Across Punjab province and two districts of neighboring Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, groundwater supplies are depleting at 16 to 55 centimetres (6 to 21 inches) a year, according to a study carried out by the International Waterlogging and Salinity Research Institute (IWASRI), part of the Pakistani government's Water and Power Development Authority.

Efforts by farmers to find more water are only exacerbating the problem. Muhammad Saeed, director at IWASRI, said that 42 percent of the land in Punjab is irrigated using wells and the excessive pumping of groundwater is quickly lowering the water table.

Mustafa, for instance, said he must deepen his well in Pakpattan district almost every year to get enough water for irrigation. The deeper his well gets, the harder his generator has to work to pump out the water – and that uses more diesel fuel.

The farmer's monthly fuel bill for his pump has increased from 5,000 rupees ($49) to 7,000 rupees ($68) in just the last year.

"Pakistan lacks a water recharge system in the area, as we cannot get water from the Sutlej and Beas rivers under the Indus Water Treaty with India,” Saeed said. That water-sharing treaty, signed in 1960, divides the Indus River system equally between India and Pakistan, giving each country exclusive use of three of the river's tributaries.

"In the near future, farmers will no longer be able to grow water-intensive crops like sugarcane and rice,” Saeed predicted.