FARMERS’ SUICIDE IN INDIA
As per the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) there are at least 16,196 farmers’ suicides in India in 2008, bringing the total since 1997 to 199,132. According to another study by the Bureau, while the number of farmer suicides increased since 2001 the number of farmers perhaps , thousands abandon agriculture. At least 17,368 Indian farmers killed themselves in 2009, the worst figure for farmer suicides in six years, according to the data of NCRB.
The Governments had always tried to underplay the cases of farmers’ death. While a comprehensive all-India study is still awaited, maximum suicides occurred in states of Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala and Punjab.
In 2006 Prime Minister Manmohan Singh announced a package of Rs. 3,750 crore to help farmers in six districts of Vidarbha region of Maharashtra state, but it could not make any significant change in the region. The economic plight of the farmer might be illustrated with the fact, that a farmer having as much as 15 acres of land, is considered a well-off farmer, with an income of just a little more than, the legal minimum wage for all of the 365 days of the year.
In the initial years when farmers distress came to attract public attention it was said that indebtedness through use of Bt. Cotton were the main cause for farmers’ suicide. The problem is complex and root causes include lopsided policies of the World Trade Organization and Developed Nations subsidy to their cotton farmers, which make Vidarbhas cotton uncompetitive in world markets. Consequently Vidarbha is plagued by high rates of school drop outs, penniless widows left in the wake of suicides, loan sharks and exploitation of the vulnerable groups.
The Union Government’s move to reduce the duty on import of raw silk from 30 per cent to 5 per cent, as announced in 2011-2012 budget has come as a rude shock for the sericulture farmers who are already agitated over the steep fall in cocoon prices. The same open market policy followed by India, which has foreign investors coming into IT industry in India and benefiting Indian IT engineers, is immensely killing farmers.
It is important that the Government and the society evolve a farmer centric and agriculture supportive policy and approach accepting the reality that it is the farmers who have all along tended the land for the sustenance for living . The rural employment scheme should be made more local friendly employment accordingly there is also an urgent need of ensuring food security for the distressed farmers.
Genetically Modified Seeds (Bt cotton and others)
Most of the farmers of Vidarbha were told that major companies sell them the seeds, mentioning that they do not need expensive pesticides but they do. They had to buy the same seeds from the same company every year. This practice is expensive and literally kills them.
The pro-GM experts claim that it is rural poverty, alcoholism, drought and agrarian distress that are the real reasons for the horrific toll. The fact remains that the epicenter of the disaster is the G.M. Seeds in Maharashtra.
In March 2011 Disaster Management Development (DMD) magazine conducted a study on the farmers’ suicide. As per the study reports it was found that the Prime Minister’s package could not brought significant changes in that region because of the following reasons:
- the relief packages were not being designed as per the need of farmers.
- The relief packages were mostly amalgamations of existing schemes.
- Apart from the farmer helpline and the direct financial assistance, nothing new was being offered. Also the farmer helpline did not give any substantial help to farmers.
- The basis for selection of beneficiaries under the assistance scheme was not well-defined.
- There was no proper awareness about the packages.
- It could not reach to the real needy people. In fact many major beneficiaries were relatives and associates of Ministers and other influential leaders.
However, the truth is very tragic. Farmers are committing suicides by swallowing insecticide or hanging themselves on the trees because they are massively in debt to banks and local money lenders, having over borrowed to purchase GM seed.
In India agriculture has special significance for low income, poor and vulnerable sections of rural society. Agriculture constitutes largest share of country’s National income though the share has declined from 55 percent in early 1950s to about 25 percent by the turn of the Century, more than half of India’s workforce is employed in its agriculture sector, growth of other sectors and overall economy depends on performance of agriculture to a considerable extent. Besides, agriculture is a source of livelihood and food security for large majority of vast population of India. Because of these reasons agriculture is at the core of socio- economic development and progress of Indian society, and proper policy for a agriculture sector is crucial to improve living standards and to improve welfare of masses. Agriculture in India is in the hands of millions of present house- holds, a bulk of which comprise tiny land holdings.
As per the records of the NCRB about 2,575 farmers committed suicide from 2000 to 2008 in the state of rissa. During the year 2009-10, 64 alleged farmers suicide has been published in the newspaper. Alarming levels of hunger and malnutrition, water shortages and indebtedness, has made peoples’ life miserable. The condition of rural area is so pathetic that number of farmers and agriculture labour have no option but to migrate or commit suicides otherwise they will die due to starvation. Natural hazards such as drought, flood as well as man-made hazards such as corruption, bribe, exploitation are the factors that are spoiling the life of farmers.
Monocultures and uniformity in farm practices increase the risk of crop failure, as diverse seeds adapted to diverse eco-systems, are replaced by the rushed introduction of uniform and often untested seeds into the market. When Monsanto first introduced Bt. Cotton in 2002, the farmers lost 1 billion rupees due to crop failure. Instead of 1,500 kilos per acre yield as promised by the company, the harvest was as low as 200 kilos per acre. Instead of incomes of 10,000 rupees an acre, farmers ran into losses of around 6,000 rupees an acre .
World Trade Organizatio
India became a signatory to Agreement on Agriculture (AoA) under WTO. India gave permission without proper consultation with experts and farmers for introduction of G.M. Seeds. It appears that WTO’s rules for trade is to dump products in the developing countries much below production cost in the countries. They have allowed wealthy countries to increase agribusiness subsidies while preventing other countries from protecting their farmers from artificially cheap imported produce. Four hundred billion dollars in subsidies combined with the forced removal of import restriction is a ready-made recipe for farmer suicide.
Major causes of farmer’s suicide is due to introduction of G.M. seeds and neglect by the Government to bring the small land holding to productivity. Indigenous cotton varieties can be intercropped with food crops. Bt cotton can only be grown as a monoculture. Indigenous cotton is rain fed. Bt cotton needs irrigation. Indigenous varieties are pest resistant.
Monsanto sells its GMO seeds on fraudulent claims of yields of 1500 kg/year when farmers harvest 300-400 kg/year on an average. High costs and unreliable output make for a debt trap and a clean ground for suicide . While Monsanto pushes the costs of cultivation up, agribusiness subsidies drive down the price farmers get for their produce.
The shift from saved seed to corporate monopoly of the seed supply also represents a shift from biodiversity to monoculture in agriculture. Farmers in India are used to grow diverse crops, traditional cotton, legumes, millets, and oilseeds. Now the imposition of cotton monocultures has led to the loss of the wealth of farmers and nature’s evolution.
High cost corporate agriculture is having adverse impact on the livelihood of farmers. The increasing cost of production and the falling prices combined with the decline in farm credit is a great burden on farmers, which is pushing them to desperation. NCRB is monitoring the impact of trade liberalization policies on Indian farmers and Indian agriculture since the new economic policy (1991) and WTO rules of the agreement on agriculture (1995) came into force.
Death trap of rural farmers
1. At all-India level, an estimated 60.4% of rural households were farmer households and of them 48.6% were reported to be indebted.
2. The incidence of indebtedness was highest in Andhra Pradesh (82.0%) to be followed by Tamilnadu (74.5%), Punjab (65.4%)
Kerala (64.4%) , Karnataka (61.6%) and Maharashtra (54.8%)
3. Going by principal source of income, 57% farmer house holds are cultivators. Among them 48% were indebted.
4. At National level, on an average, 29 out of 100 indebted household borrowed from ‘agricultural/professional money lender’. Among the states the incidence of borrowing from this source was highest in Andhra radish (57 out of 100 indebted households), to be followed by Tamil Nadu (52 out 100 indebted households).
5. The most important source of loan in terms of percentage of outstanding loan amount was banks (36%), to be followed by moneylenders (26%).
Associated factors for suicide
bsence of safety net or any other insurance support,lack of assured irrigation systems,
Ø the presence of abusive banking systems,
Ø the wide availability of highly toxic pesticides, and the potential relief after suicide, likely all contributed.
Seeds of Hope campaign to stop farmers suicides
The transition from seeds of suicide to seeds of hope should include:
- agriiculture must be at the core of socio economic development in the country; diminishing agriculture fields should be brought back under cultivation.
- Innovative, income generating, appropriate technology should be available to the farmers.
- Linkages with major funding institutions like banks should be developed for the farmers.
- Policies of the Government should be pro farmer, should help small land farmers to cultivate their land.
- There should be a shift from GMO and non renewable seeds to organic, open pollinated seed varieties which farmers can save and share.
- A shift from chemical farming to organic farming is vital and should be developed systematically.
- Fair trade based on real and just prices instead of unfair trade based on false prices should be established.
Plight of women in rural areas
Most of the rural women, particularly the aged, it is life-long, brave and often tireless search for food. Wizened and shriveled are the most destitute women I encounter during my visits to the field. For decades they live in remote villages, centered around organizing food each day for husbands, children and themselves. They earn pittance cleaning cow sheds, other odd jobs they hate to do. Yet most days, all they could afford after all this toil and shame at least was a single meal, mainly of coarse rice or they had to make do with fermented starch water left over by neighbors after they cooked the rice. But what I remember them for is not their utter hopeless destitution. I recall instead their spirit, resilience, garrulousness, sporadic humor and above all generosity. When I leave their huts, they run after me with a pumpkin or other vegetables or fruits which they had grown in backyards. They press it into my hands and insist ‘You have come to meet me from such a distant land. This is my gift to you.”
God bless them in their struggle for living. LWSIT has a big role to play in reducing poverty, malnutrition, hunger, starvation death and farmer’s suicide.
Dr. Vijayakumar James
Lutheran World Service India Trust