Carved out of the Mianwali district in 1982, Bhakkar district is known for its Thal desert and the gram/chickpeas and moong pulse produced there. The desert, which protrudes into adjoining Khushab and Layyah districts, produces 80 per cent of chickpeas in the country. Spread over 8,153 sq km, the district lies along the left bank of River Indus and is part of the Sindh Sagar Doab.
Bhakkar, the headquarters of the district, is an ancient walled town. Various Baloch tribes are in an overwhelming majority in its 1.65 million population. Non-Pushto speaking Pathans like Niazis and Mastikhels as well as Jats and Rajputs are also in good numbers, while others migrating communities from India may also be found. Dhandlas, Niwanis and Shahanis have been occupying the political scene in the district, which comprises over 2m acres of cultivable and 130,000 acres of uncultivated land. At least 65,000 acres are under forest while 47,500 acres is a wasteland.
The Greater Thal canal project has divided the district into two parts: the irrigated area in Darya Khan, Kalurkot and Bhakkar tehsils up till Layyah district along the mighty Indus, and other rain-fed eastern parts towards Jhang district comprising Mankera and Nurpur Thal tehsil. Chaubara branch canal of the Greater Thal Canal has been constructed and will shortly begin irrigating these so far unirrigated sandy lands of Bhakkar.
The Thal desert is known for its chickpea production but for the last eight years or so it is facing the wrath of climate change as either there is no rain at all leading to failure in the germination of the seed or it rains heavily damaging the standing crop sown over one million acres of land. Being highly weather dependent, its output varies — a maximum of nine tonnes per acre yield was recorded in 2013, while the same dropped to 2.56 tonnes per acre in 2018. More area may be brought under cultivation if farmers are provided laser land levellers as the desert comprises sand dunes and mounds.
Some well-off farmers have tried to become less dependent on weather by installing solar-powered water pumps because unlike in Cholistan and Thar deserts, the level of the mostly sweet sub-soil water is not deeper than 30 feet. A few of the progressive growers are also trying to install sprinklers as a solution to water shortage. But, being costly experiments, the majority of poor farmers cannot afford to opt for it until and unless the government heavily subsidises the machinery. However, the government has installed 300 tube wells in 1998 that are still in use.