The Agriculture Mess
“My grandfather used to say that once in your life you need a doctor, a lawyer, a policeman and a preacher, but every day, three times a day, you need a farmer.”
Weeks before hanging himself from a tree on his farm on June 1 this year, Kalyan Khomne, 55, read out a newspaper report to his son Shahdev. “It was about a farmer’s suicide in our taluka,” says 26-year-old Shahdev. His village, Nandurghat, and the nearby hamlets in Beed district’s Kaij taluka, have seen six farmer suicides in recent months. It tells the story of a state staring at its third drought in four years, the epicentre being the eight districts in the Marathwada region, which has so far reported the country’s highest rainfall deficit in the current monsoon season (June-September), at 52 per cent.
Does the current situation owe itself to farmers moving away from subsistence crops such as jowar (sorghum) to soyabean and cotton? B Venkateswarlu, vice-chancellor of the Marathwada Agricultural University at Parbhani, believes it is unfair to blame farmers for the changed cropping patterns, as they only respond to market signals and there is also falling demand for jowar. Besides, while jowar can withstand dry spells, 40-45 days of no rains would wither any crop, including sorghum. “This isn’t a normal year or even a sub-normal year. It is a bad year,” he points out. His university is advising farmers to go in for an early rabi season, and sowing of safflower on fallow lands. Venkateswarlu also expects acreage under rabi jowar to increase — assuming there are rains in September. Overall, this has been a catastrophic year for Marathwada, sparing not even crops having some irrigation cover. By modest estimates, about 30 per cent of the region’s horticulture crop would be lost from this year’s drought. The damage is not less to the 2,30,000 hectares under sugarcane, a significant part of which is irrigated — this time using costly water from tankers. The Maharashtra government is now contemplating disallowing mills in Marathwada to even start crushing operations from next month— since that itself requires water. In 2014-15, the state spent Rs 4,336 crore on financial assistance for Marathwada’s farmers. That bill could balloon further this year. More incalculable is the human loss and damage to farmer morale. If 2014 recorded 574 farmer suicides in the region, the tally for 2015 has already touched 628. As Shahdev says of his father, “They don’t tell their families anything. They just go.” Leaving behind, of course, another year of drought, another destroyed crop, more failed investments and ever larger loans.
In 2014, the National Crime Records Bureau of India reported 5,650 farmer suicides. 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 to 1.8 per 100,000 total population, over a 10-year period through 2005.
India is an agrarian country with around 60% of its people depending directly or indirectly upon agriculture. Farmer suicides account for 11.2% of all suicides in India. Activists and scholars have offered a number of conflicting reasons for farmer suicides, such as monsoon failure, high debt burdens, genetically modified crops, government policies, public mental health, personal issues and family problems. There are also accusation of states fudging the data on farmer suicides.
The National Crime Records Bureau of India reported in its 2012 annual report 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.
In 2011, a total of 135,585 people committed suicide, of which 14,207 were farmers. In 2010, 15,963 farmers in India committed suicide, while total suicides were 134,599.
In 2012, the state of Maharashtra, with 3,786 farmers' suicides, accounted for about a quarter of the all India's farmer suicides total (13,754). From 1995 to 2013, a total of 296,438 Indian farmers committed suicide. During the same period, about 9.5 million people died per year in India from other causes including malnutrition, diseases and suicides that were non-farming related, or about 171 million deaths from 1995 to 2013.
Farmer suicides rates in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh – two large states of India by size and population – have been about 10 times lower than Maharashtra, Kerala and Pondicherry. In 2012, there were 745 farmer suicides in Uttar Pradesh, a state with an estimated population of 205.43 million. In 2014 there were eight farmer suicides in Uttar Pradesh.
According to IFFRI study number of suicides during 2005–2009 in Gujarat 387, Kerala 905, Punjab 75 and Tamil Nadu 26. While 1802 farmers committed suicide inChhattisgarh in 2009 and 1126 in 2010, its farmers suicide dropped to zero in 2011, leading to accusations of data manipulation.
According to the 2012 statistics from the National Crime Records Bureau, the farmer suicides statistics are as follows (Note: The NCRB lists suicides in the different employment categories, but it is not necessary that farming or crop-failure is the cause of the suicides listed in the "farmer" category):
There are multiple reasons to explain this suicide trend, in particular the financial pressure farmers often face from high debts, according to al-Jazeera. This past spring, thousands of people gathered in the capital of New Delhi to protest a controversial land reform bill that seeks to ease land purchasing for larger corporations. Critics of the proposed law, which was put forth by Prime Minister Narendra Modi's party, the Bharatiya Janata party, say that it would allow bigger companies to acquire land at the expense of poor farmers and push them further into debt.
Farmers in India are also particularly vulnerable to bad weather and heavy rains, which can destroy crops and ruin their only source of income. Less than 20 percent of farmers are insured, according to India's Chamber of Commerce.
Almost 60 percent of rural households in India rely on the agriculture sector, yet it only makes up 16 percent of the country's total GDP. Rural wage growth is at its lowest in 10 years, according to India's Labor Bureau, and unseasonably strong rains this past spring destroyed many crops in northern and western portions of India.
“If the farmer is poor the whole nation is poor”
Why can’t we go buy this tune? Why can’t we feel we need farmers?
They don’t need us we need them. They sow, they reap, they grow and they give.
Why is the government not doing anything for them?
The whole nation depends on the farmers. It’s because of their handwork we are able to eat two square meal a day.
The vast majority of suicides are of non farmers. Why are their deaths treated as lesser tragedies than those of farmers?
Because presenting farm suicides as a single mass tragedy can win awards for journalists, TRPs for TV anchors, dona tions for NGOs opposing commercial crops and globalization, slogans for leftists attributing eve rything to class war, and votes for opposition parties. Many states now compensate suicide-hit families, delighting mon eylenders who had lent to these families and can now use muscle to claw back their dues from the compensation money.
So, activists opposing GM crops may actually be promoting suicides. Please abandon ideological agendas and get medical help to those who need it most.
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