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Farmer Suicides In India

They toiled and they fought through the shame of it


Through wilderness, flood, and drought
The miseries suffered, unvoiced, unknown
And thats how the land was won.
-

Henry Lawson

Introduction
Agriculture has always been celebrated as the primary sector
in India. India is
an agrarian economy, which means, Agriculture is the predominant sector of
the Indian economy. True to this, even to this day, inspite of the
Indian
economy opening out to the world and globalization, close to
70% of the
population still depends on agriculture for its livelihood. The
secondary and
tertiary sectors in India are growing at rapid rates, still a vast
majority of
Indians continue to depend on agriculture. Every plan for the
growth of the

Indian economy aims at agricultural development, which is


justified because to
achieve the growth rates that the economy aims at, it is
important to first
address the growth rate of the major sector of the economy.
Since the first
Five year plan, India's focus has been on agriculture and after
50 years of Five
year plans, where does Indian agriculture stand ?

Thanks to the Green Revolution, India is now self-sufficient in


food production, gone are the days when India had to import
even food grains for daily consumption. Indian agriculture has
been making technological advancement as well. Today, a visit
to the villages will reveal that more and more farmers are
adopting mechanization for their farming, there is an overall
improvement in
the agricultural trends in India.
Does that mean everything is looking bright for Indian
agriculture? A
superficial analysis of the above points would tempt one to say
yes, but the
truth is far from it. Behind all the growth and development lies
the reality that
Indian farmers have to extreme poverty and financial crisis
driving them to

suicides. The year 1997 saw the first few cases of farmers
committing
suicides, these cases steadily increased over the next decade,
peaking in 2001
and reports say that as many as 6000 farmers committed
suicide in the last 5
years in the state of Andhra Pradesh alone. The worst cases of
farmers
committing suicides come from the states of Andhra Pradesh,
Karnataka and
Maharashtra.

History
In the 1990s India woke up to a spate of farmers suicides.
One of the major
reporters of these suicides was the Rural Affairs Editor of The
Hindu, P Sainath. The first state where suicides were reported
was Maharashtra.
Soon newspapers began to report similar occurrences from
Andhra
Pradesh.In the beginning it was believed that most of the
suicides were
happening among the cotton growers, especially those
from Vidharbha. A

look at the figures given out by the State Crime Records


Bureau, however,
was sufficient to indicate that it was not just the cotton
farmer but farmers
as a professional category were suffering, irrespective of their
holding
size. Moreover, it was not just the farmers from Vidarbha but
all over
Maharashtra who showed a significantly high suicide rate. [The
government
appointed a number of inquiries to look into the causes of
farmers suicide
and farm related distress in general. Subsequently Prime
Minister Manmohan Singh visited Vidarbha and promised a
package of
Rs.110 billion (about $2.4 billion) to be spent by the
government in
Vidarbha. The families of farmers who had committed suicide
were also
offered an ex gratia grant to the tune of Rs.100,000 (about
$2,000) by the
government. This figure kept on varying, depending on how
much criticism
the government was facing from the media and the
opposition parties for
being uncaring towards the farmers' plight. Such a high figure
was ironic

considering that the net average income of a family of


farmers in this region
was approximately Rs.2700 (about $60) per acre per annum.
The economic
plight of the farmer might be illustrated with the fact that a
farmer having as
much as 15 acres (61,000 m2) of land, and hence considered
a well-off
farmer, had an income of just a little more than what he
would have earned
were he to merely get the legal minimum wage for all of the
365 days of the
year. Little wonder that despite government efforts at
pumping in more
money into the suicide belt the suicide epidemic among
farmers remained
unabated through 2006-07. The problems of the farmers were
quite
comprehensive. There was little credit available. What was
available was
very costly. There was no advice on how best to conduct
agriculture
operations. Income through farming was not enough to meet
even the
minimum needs of a farming family. Support systems like free
health

facilities from the government were virtually non-existent.


Traditionally
support systems in the villages of India had been provided by
the government. However, due to a variety of reasons the
government had either withdrawn itself from its supportive
role or plain simple misgovernance had allowed facilities in
the villages to wither away.

Statistics
Farmers in India became the centre of considerable concern in
the 1990s when
the journalist P.Sainath highlighted the large number
of suicides among them.
Official reports initially denied the farmer suicides but as more
and more
information came to light the government began to accept that
farmers in
India were under considerable stress. On figures there was
much debate since
the issue was so emotive. More than 17,500 farmers a year
killed themselves
between 2002 and 2006, according to experts who have
analyzed government
statistics. Others traced the increase in farmer suicides to the
early 1990s. It
was said, a comprehensive all-India study is still awaited, that
most suicides

occurred in states of Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra,Karnataka


,Kerala and Punjab. The situation was grim enough to force at
least the
Maharashtra government to set up a dedicated office to deal
with farmers
distress.

In 2006, the state of Maharashta, with 4,453 farmers suicides


accounted for
over a quarter of the all-India total of 17,060, according to the
National Crime
Records Bureau (NCRB). NCRB also stated that there were 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
farm suicides
increased since 2001, the number of farmers has fallen, as
thousands
abandoning agriculture in distress.According to government
data, over 5,000
farmers committed suicide in 2005-2009 in Maharashtra, while
1,313 cases were ported by Andhra Pradesh between 2005 and 2007. In
Karnataka the number
stood at 1,003, since 2005-06 till August 2009. According to
NCRB database
number of suicides during 2005-2009 in Gujarat 387, Kerala
905, Punjab 75 and

Tamil Nadu 26.In April 2009, the state of Chattisgarh reported


1,500 farmers
committed suicide due to debt and crop failure. At least 17,368
Indian farmers
killed themselves in 2009, the worst figure for farm suicides in
six years,
according to data of the National Crime Records(NCRB).

Causes
To understand the causes, one must analyse the agricultural
set up in India.
Indian agriculture is predominantly dependant on nature.
Irrigation facilities
that are currently available, do not cover the entire cultivable
land. Any
failure of nature, directly affects the fortunes of the farmers.
Secondly,
Indian agriculture is largely an unorganized sector, there is no
systematic
planning in cultivation,
uneconomical sizes,
institutional finances
purchase prices of the

are

farmers

not

work

available

on

lands

of

and

minimum

government do not in reality reach the poorest farmer. Added


to this, the

cost of agricultural inputs have been steadily rising over the


years, farmers'
margins of profits have been narrowing because the price rise
in inputs is
not complemented by an increase in the purchase price of the
agricultural
produce. Even today, in several parts of the country,
agriculture is a seasonal
occupation. In many districts, farmers get only one crop per
year and for the
remaining part of the year, they find it difficult to make both
ends meet.

India has witnessed a spate of droughts over the last decade.


The worst
affected being the farmers of Rayalaseema districts in Andhra
Pradesh, it is
the cotton farmers in the state of Maharashtra. Nature has
repeatedly failed
the farmers of these states and owing to lack of facilities to
save their crops,
these farmers have no means to face the adversities of crop
failures. If the
farmers are at the mercy of monsoons for timely water for
their crops, they
are at the mercy of the government for alternative irrigation
facilities. The

Government cannot be trusted to always act in the interest of


the farmers.

The farmers normally resort to borrowing from money


lenders, in the
absence of institutionalized finance. Where institutional
finance is available,
the ordinary farmer does not have a chance of availing it
because of the
"procedures" involved
institutional finance,

in

disbursing

the

finance.

The

where available is mostly availed by the medium or large land


owners, the
small farmers do not even have the awareness of the
existence of such
facilities. The money lender is the only source of finance to
the farmers.
Should the crops fail, the farmers fall into a debt trap and
crop failures piled
up over the years give them no other option other than
ending their lives.
The input - output ratio, in terms of money invested in
agriculture is very
meager, primarily because of raising cost of inputs and
insufficient support
prices from the government.

Agriculture works out profitably where the size of the land is


medium to
large to benefit from the economies of large scale production.
The fact is
that majority of the farmers in India own as little as 2 acres of
land,
cultivation on such small sized lands is not feasible, in many
cases, the
farmers are not even the owners of the land, which makes
profitable
cultivation impossible because a significant portion of the
earnings go
towards the payment of lease for the land. At times, even the
middle to
large land owners are faced with the difficulties of the vast
majority of
farmers, however, they are able to atleast realize their
investment for each
crop.

Repeated crop failures, debt hassles, lack of alternative


sources of income,
absence of institutional finance have left the farmers with no
other solution

other than ending their lives. Another disturbing trend has


been observed
where farmers commit suicide in order to avail relief and
benefits
announced by the government to support the families of the
farmers who
have died. This is true in the case of several farmers in
Andhra Pradesh who
committed suicide so that their families could atleast benefit
from the
Government's relief programmes.

GM Crops
There have been claims of genetically-modified (GM) seeds
(such as Bt cotton)
being responsible for the farmer suicides. A short documentary
by Frontline (U.S. TV series) suggested that farmers using GM
seeds promoted
by Cargill and Monsanto have led to rising debts and forced
some into the
equivalent of indentured servitude to the moneylenders.
A report released by the International Food Policy Research
Institute in
October 2009 provided evidence that the introduction
of Bt cotton was not a

major factor in farmer suicides in India. It argues that the


suicides predate the
introduction of the cotton in 2002 and has been fairly
consistent since
1997. Other studies also suggest the increase in farmer
suicides is due to a
combination of various socio-economic factors. These include
debt, the
difficulty of farming semi-arid regions, poor agricultural income,
absence of
alternative income opportunities, the downturn in the urban
economy forcing
non-farmers into farming, and the absence of suitable
counseling services

Responses to Farmers Suicides


Vidarbha was in the media for a spate of farmer suicides in
recent years
ostensibly because of the falling Minimum Support Price for
cotton. The
problem is complex and root causes include lopsided policies of
the World
Trade Organisation and developed nations' subsidies to their
cotton farmers
which make Vidarbha's 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 Indian government had promised to increase the minimum


rate for cotton
by approximately Rs 100 ($2) but reneged on its promise by
reducing the
Minimum Support Price further. This resulted in more suicides
as farmers were
ashamed to default on debt payments to loan sharks. In 2006,
1,044 suicides
were reported in Vidarbha alone - that's one suicide every eight
hours.
In April 2007 a development consulting group named Green
Earth Social
Development Consulting produced a report after doing an audit
of the state
and central government relief packages in Vidarbha. [37][unreliable
source?]
The
report's conclusions were:

Farmers' demands were not taken into account while


preparing the relief package. Neither were civil society
organisations, local government bodies,panchayats etc.
consulted.

The relief packages were mostly amalgamations of existing


schemes. Apart from the farmer helpline and the direct
financial assistance, there was scarcely anything new being
offered. Pumping extra funds into additional schemes shows
that no new idea was applied to solve a situation where
existing measures had obviously failed.
The farmer helpline did not give any substantial help to
farmers except in Karnataka.

The basis for selection of beneficiaries under the assistance


scheme was not well-defined. Also, type of assistance to be
given led to problems like a farmer needing a pair of bullocks
getting a pump set and vice versa (or a farmer who has no
access to water sources being given pump sets)

Awareness regarding the package was also fairly low.

The report concluded quite alarmingly that the loan burden of


the farmersr
would double in 2008.
To attract attention a variety of catch phrases were coined such
as SEZ or
(Farmers) Special Elimination Zone states.
The government set up a dedicated group to deal with farm
distress in 2006
known as the Vasantrao Naik Sheti Swavlamban Mission, based
in Amravati A group to study the Farmers Suicides was also
constituted by
the Government of Karnataka under the Chairmanship of Dr
Veeresh, Former
Vice Chancellor of Agricultural University and Prof Deshpande
as member.

In Popular Culture

Summer 2007 by producer Atul Pandey, focused on the issue of


farmer suicides
in Maharashtra's Vidarbha region, as did the 2009 Bollywood
film Kissan.[40] Prior to this The Dying Fields, a documentary
directed by Fred de
Sam Lazaro was aired in August 2007 on Wide Angle (TV
series).

In 2006, a documentary by Indian film maker Sumit Khanna


titled Mere Desh Ki
Dharti, did a comprehensive review of the way we grow our
food. A well
researched and in-depth understanding of the agrarian crisis, it
won the
national award for the best Investigative film.

In 2009, the International Museum of Women included an


examination of the
impact of farmers' suicides on the lives of the farmers' wives
and children in
their exhibition Economica: Women and the Global Economy.
Their slideshow
"Growing Debt" and accompanying essay by curator Masum
Momaya entitled
"Money of Her Own" showed how many widows were left with
the burden of
their husbands' debts, and were forced to work as indentured
servants to

repay the debt. The widows were also unlikely to remarry,


because other men
in the community were unwilling to take on the widows' debts
for
themselves.[41]
The 2010, award winning film Jhing Chik Jhing is based around
the emotive issue of farmer suicides in Maharashtra. It looks at
how the farmer has very little in his control and looks at the
impact of indebtedness on his family.[42]

Solutions
1. The dependency of agriculture on nature should be
reduced. This calls for
effective management of water during seasons of good
monsoons.
Prevention of crop failure should be the primary aim of the
Government.
In most cases, it is not the lack of water but the lack of proper
management on the government's part that causes water
shortage. A
simple example for this is the recent case of the farmers in the
Penna
delta of Nellore District of Andhra Pradesh. Inspite of the
availability of
ample water for a second crop, the Government decided
against

permitting the second crop, in view of proposed repairs and


upgradation
to the reservoirs. The proposal would result in draining of
precious water into
the sea which could be used to the benefit of the farmers. It
was only after
several agitations by the farmers' organizations that the
Government relented
and allowed the second crop. Water management should be
made more
effective through inter- state co-operation on water resources,
where surplus
water from perennial rivers can be diverted to those regions
facing drought,
as it is always seen in India, where in state there is severe
drought, another
state has to face worst floods, such regional imbalances can
be managed by
effective utilization of water resources throughout the country.

2. Making institutional finance available to every farmer is


another
important solution to save to the farmers from debt traps
of
moneylenders. Where institutional finance is available, it
should be made

easily accessible to the poorest farmers. This calls for


removing of
elaborate formalities and procedures for obtaining the
loans. A poor
farmer would be unable to understand the complexities of
procedures,
he needs a simple solution for his financial needs. Effective
monitoring of
the disbursed funds is also required because in many
cases, the poor
farmer is used as a front-end while in fact the benefit of the
loan is
availed by a bigger land owner. In addition, monitoring is
also needed to
ensure that the farmers are using the funds for the right
purposes.
3. Farmers need to be advised and guided on economical
methods of
cultivation which would save finances for them. The
technological
advancement in agriculture should be passed down to the
small farmers.
Where the existing crops would not do well under current
drought and
weather conditions, the farmers could be helped to shift to
the

cultivation of crops that would be easy and economical to


cultivate in
adverse conditions. Agriculture should be approached
professionally and
not as a traditional occupation.

4. The government could also explore the possibility of


pooling of the lands
of small farmers and
economically cultivable

making

bigger

chunk

of

land. Through pooling of lands, the small farmers can avail


the economies
of cultivating on a larger scale.

5. Small farmers should be encouraged to develop alternative


sources of
income and the
responsibility of

government

should

take

up

the

providing training to the farmers to acquire new skills. In


drought
affected areas, the Government could start alternative
employment
generation programmes to reduce the dependency on
agriculture as the
sole source of income.

6. Provision of relief facilities alone is not sufficient as it has


been observed
in the case of Andhra Pradesh where farmers committed
suicides just to
avail the benefits of relief packages. Relief packages
should be given as a
benefit to farmers to enable them to sustain their
livelihood rather than
as a relief to families of farmers who commit suicide.

Conclusions
Repeated crop failures, inability to meet the rising cost of
cultivation, and indebtedness seem to create a situation
that forces farmers to commit suicide. However, not all
farmers facing these conditions commit suicide it is only
those who seem to have felt that they have exhausted all
avenues of securing support have taken their lives.

It is not only the landed who have a crisis of indebtedness to


deal with. There
were a number of landless families who had leased land on a
short-/long-term
basis by securing loans.It was also noticed that many landless
families

managed to acquire money through migration to cities and


purchased lands in
the late eighties and early nineties.Many such families were
caught up in cycles
of debt and destitution, which ultimately led to the suicide of
the head of the
family. Thus, the survivors were reduced to landlessness due to
debt. Among
those committed included medium and large landowners who
were also
affected by a high level of un-payable debt.
In the cotton belt, the crop seems to have failed more than
once in the last
four years. This crop failure has always not been associated
with natural
calamities, such as failure of rain or un-seasonal rains leading
to destruction of
crops. The causes are an increase in pest attacks in the last few
years,
especially from 1995 onwards. This meant that the farmers
needed more
money to pay for pesticides, though, in the end, a high level of
pesticide use
did not prevent crop failure.
Longitudinal data available with government sources indicate
declining productivity of land. This meant increased use of
fertilisers to enhance
productivity of land. Theinformation available indicates that
farmers have been
spending more on fertilisers even while crop performance has
been showing a

declining trend. The group discussions and case studies point to


the fact that
the quantity of use of fertiliser per acre rose in the midnineties
and has now
reached a saturation point. There appears to be a decrease in
the production
per acre in the same area.
Most families indicated that they did not have access to
extension machinery
of the government in giving sound information on how to deal
with pests and
decliningproductivity of land. The farmers are dependent on
agents of fertiliser
and pesticide companies for advice on seeds and crop care. The
information
base of the farmers is, thus, limited to the data provided by the
agents and
their products. A false perception of prosperity is being created
in the minds of
the cultivators that prompts them to take serious risks in terms
of fertiliserbased cropping pattern.
Input costs have also exhibited a sharp rise. Agriculture has
become more
expensive post-1995. This rise in the input cost is reflected in
the electricity
bills, rising costs of high yielding variety (HYV) seeds, fertilisers,
energy (diesel),
transportation, etc. The rising input cost is not matched by the
crop yield and
price obtained. The minimum support price has not been
available to all
farmers, particularly the small and marginal farmers. Large
landowners have

been able to benefit from support price, when the government


has
occasionally provided such support. The absence of support
price has had
seriousimplications to the farmers.
Declining opportunities in non-farm employment has further
aggravated the
crisis. It seems that in areas where suicides have occurred, nonfarm options
are getting limited.There are also instances where members of
families have
returned to land after losing work in urban areas or have faced
lack of
opportunities in the non-farm sector outside the village.
It is a matter of serious concern that non-farm employment
opportunities are
shrinking in off-farming seasons. Thus, declining non-farm
opportunities
together with repeated crop failures and indebtedness might
have created
acute conditions of distress for families in rural areas.In all
these areas, there is
a noticeable absence of irrigation and sustainable harnessing of
water
resources. As a result, agriculture is mostly rain dependent
(more so in the
context of the crisis in groundwater availability for farming).
The over
dependence of the farmer on the HYV seeds, pesticides and
fertiliser-based
cropping demands water. It was noticed that there was a
noticeable scarcity of
water, including groundwater.

The tendency towards commercial (cash) crops increased in the


late eighties,
and this tendency is not limited to big and medium sized
landholders alone.
Even the landless and small landholders have been acquiring
land on lease for
cash crop cultivation. In the absence of credit and other inputs
like facilitation
and support price, dependence on cash crops may have
contributed to the
agrarian crisis in the areas. Thus, the life of farmers is governed
by loans taken
mostly to support farming.
Life histories and case studies conducted for this study reveal
that there has
been sharp increase in the dependence on loans to enable
cultivation. The
tendency to take loans increased in the nineties. The farmers
took their first
loan from banks (banks gave loan only once, with a further loan
possible only
after repayment of the outstanding loan). The later loans were
from private
parties to repay the bank loan (default of which would result in
attachment of
the land or mortgaged house). Even for those with an ability to
get loan from
the formal sector, access to informal sector loans was
indispensable. Thus,
over 75% of the farmers had loan commitments to non-formal
sources.

Those farmers who faced repeated crop failures accumulated


loans beyond
their capacity to repay. Thus, most of victims had turned
defaulters over the
last four years. This points to a serious crisis as reflected in the
absence of the
support system to bail the farmers out, in the form of relatives,
neighbours,
banks and even the moneylenders who had stopped giving the
loans to them
lately. Many farmers tried to diversify their employment
opportunities with
new loans. Some had gone in for purchase of tractors in order
to rent it out.
Medium- and large-sized landholders followed these
strategies,but many did
not succeed in their efforts, resulting in higher debt burdens.
These are the conditions and the contexts that forced the
victims to take the
extreme step of suicide. During the course of our discussions
with the villagers,
which were discovered that the conditions of the others wan
not much
different and that most of them suffered from the same
tensions and
problems.