Friday, 19 October 2018

Essay on Farmer suicides in India – Looking beyond Indebtedness

Essay on Farmer suicides in India – Looking beyond Indebtedness

Essay on Farmer suicides in India

A farmer commits suicide every half-an-hour in India since 2001.
According to the data by the National Crime Records Bureau of India in 2014, 5,650 cases of farmer suicides reported. The highest number of farmer suicides was recorded in 2004 when 18,241 farmers committed suicide. The farmers’ suicide rate in India has ranged between 1.4 and 1.8 per 100,000 total populations, over a 10-year period through 2005. 

As we are a fast developing nation with speedily growing urban population, it is often overlooked that 70 percent of our population is still part of rural India and for them agriculture and related activities are the main source of income. Demographically speaking, we are still an agrarian economy. And it appears that while our country is on an urban developmental roll, our farmers have faced dire neglect, significantly underlined now by the shocking suicide statistics. 

Farmer suicides account for 11.2% of all suicides in India. As of 2017, farmer suicides have occurred in large numbers in Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Telengana, Tamil Nadu, Madhya Pradesh, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Orissa and Jharkhand. In its 2012 annual report, the National Crime Records Bureau of India reported that 135,445 people committed suicide in India, of which 13,755 were farmers (11.2%). Of these, 5 out of 29 states accounted for 10,486 farmers’ suicides (76%) - Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh and Kerala. Moreover, one can always expect a higher real suicide-rate than reported since the data provided by states is often skewed with some claiming zero farmer suicide. 

Studies and speculation within the county and abroad have tried to pin down the cause which leads to the utter hopelessness in farmers inciting them to such a step. While our county is long past the feudal system, many farmers own a very small strip of land or operate as tenant farmers to other big farmers and are bound in a vicious borrowing cycle to the modern day ‘lords', the moneylenders. Farmers are deprived of the benefits of the government subsidy in slashed interest rates, for most cannot meet the documentation demand of the banks and so prefer loans from local wealthy moneylenders even though at much higher rates. While for most farmers the loaning-sowing process is also really only a gamble since most remain at the mercy of the weather conditions. Many rely on the seasonal rains for irrigation while untimely rains can undo, in an instant, all the back-bending, rigorous toil that is a farmer's life. Nature's fickleness spells disaster for them as they are looking up to the crop to pay back loans and to scrape off a living for the family. At times, it stretches them just enough to push them off the brink into hopelessness and a death wish.

Interesting correlations are being drawn to determine the situation of places worst hit by the suicide menace. Some have pointed out that cash-crop - like coffee and cotton - growing farmers are the most at risk. However, the spread of cash-crop area as a predicator of suicide rate does not prove a reliable measure as many well-to-do farmers with the means to tackle weather fluctuation too have a hold on this sector, like in Gujarat. But in other areas with small cash-crop growing farmers the suicide numbers are dismal, understandably, since a failure means loss of sustenance unlike for the grain growing farmers. 

One line of argument tracing the cause behind the suicide trend is that the liberation policy adopted by the government in 1990s has taken down the farmers. Since liberal trade spans nations and prices are subject to international price fluctuations, our poor farmers do not have enough security to cope with them. Another issue which has called for much attention, with rising protests, is of Genetically Modified seeds. The GM seeds claim better product and productivity and are pest resistance and thereby high-benefits for the farmer. However, it has been observed that these expensive seeds also require extra irrigation and fertilization, pushing up the cost of production higher. Moreover, it has been observed that insects and pests have become resistant to the repelling technology in GM crops, which now demand intensive levels of fertilization, toxic for the environment. Also, a major draw-back is that these crops are sterile and the farmer required purchasing new seeds for every season. Seed companies which have acquired a patent on the GM seeds have quite managed to take over the agricultural market in this manner. 

The rising costs and thereby dipping economic viability of farming and the urban trend has seen a gradual shift away from farming. Yet a substantial portion of the population remains engaged with agriculture and what cannot be discounted is a rise in overall production and productivity. 

However, the country envisions a nation self-sufficient in meeting its food demands and for that there is a need for a major focus shift by the government onto bettering the agricultural field and helping the down-trodden farmers. Especially, since the rift between our farmers and the urban country seems to be simply expanding rapidly and while roped into the currents of world economy the secluded farmers are finding it impossible to grapple with the difficult scenario and succumbing to easier death. Sinister death, sardonically met by drinking the very pesticide bought to help them leaves in its wake a greater desolation for the living family.

A poignant point in case is also that male suicide is much greater than female suicide since, as can be understood, the responsibility of providing for the family in our country, especially in rural areas, rests on males. Some steps like exempting farmers of loans up-to one lakh have been suggested to provide some relief to the farmers. But not just allowances of monetary relief but structural improvement are now necessary which understand and address the problem at its core.

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