Farmers' suicides in India

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A group bringing attention to farmer suicide issue.

Farmer suicide in India is the intentional ending of one's life by a person dependent on farming as their primary source of livelihood. In 2012, the National Crime Records Bureau of India reported 13,754 farmer suicides.[1] The farmers suicide rate in India has been in 1.4 to 1.8 per 100,000 range over a 10-year period through 2005.[2]

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.[1] 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.[3][4][5]

Statistics[edit]

The National Crime Records Bureau of India reported in its 2012 annual report that 135,445 people committed suicide in India, of which 13,754 were farmers (11.2%).[6] Of these, 5 out of 29 states accounted for 10,486 farmers suicides (76%) – Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh and Kerala.[1]

In 2011, a total of 135,585 people committed suicide, of which 14,207 were farmers.[7] In 2010, 15,963 farmers in India committed suicide, while total suicides were 134,599.[8]

In 2012, the state of Maharashtra, with 3,786 farmers' suicides accounted for about a quarter of the all-India total.[1]

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.[9][10] In 2012, there were 745 farmer suicides in Uttar Pradesh, a state with an estimated population of 205.43 million.[11]

According to IFFRI study number of suicides during 2005–2009 in Gujarat 387, Kerala 905, Punjab 75 and Tamil Nadu 26.[12] While 1802 farmers committed suicide in Chhattisgarh in 2009 and 1126 in 2010, its farmers suicide dropped to zero in 2011, leading to accusations of data manipulation.[13]

According to the latest statistics from the National Crime Records Bureau (2012), 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):[14]

Farmers versus other professions[edit]

Patel et al., using a representative survey sample based statistical study from 2001 and 2003, extrapolated likely suicide patterns in 2010 for India. They claim suicide deaths in India among unemployed individuals and individuals in professions other than agricultural work were, collectively, about three times more frequent than they were in agricultural labourers and landowning cultivators.[16] Even across professions in rural areas, Patel et al. find suicide among agricultural workers (including farmers) in India is not more frequent than any other profession.[17]

History[edit]

Significant reporting on suicides among farmers in India began in the 1990s, particularly by 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.[18] In 2012, that total dropped to 13,754 farmer suicides in India.[1]

Farmers suicides is a matter of significant concern and controversy in India. Some allege the beginning of the increase in farmer suicides to the early 1990s.[19][20] It was also claimed, that while a comprehensive all-India study is still awaited, that most farmers suicides occurred in states of Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Kerala and Punjab.[21][22] The situation was grim enough to force at least the Maharashtra government to set up a dedicated office to deal with farmers distress.[23]

In the beginning it was believed that most of the suicides were happening among the cotton growers, especially those from Vidarbha.[24] 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.[25] Moreover, it was not just the farmers from Vidarbha but all over Maharashtra who showed a significantly high suicide rate.[26][27]

Reasons[edit]

Various reasons have been conjectured as the causes behind farmers suicide in India ranging from droughts to debt to genetically modified crops to public health; but there is no consensus.[28][29][30]

Studies dated 2004 through 2006 identified several causes for farmers suicide, such as insufficient or risky credit systems, the difficulty of farming semi-arid regions, poor agricultural income, absence of alternative income opportunities, a downturn in the urban economy which forced non-farmers into farming, and the absence of suitable counselling services.[31][32][33] In 2004, in response to a request from the All India Biodynamic and Organic Farming Association, the Mumbai High Court required the Tata Institute to produce a report on farmer suicides in Maharashtra, and the institute submitted its report in March 2005.[34][35] The survey cited "government apathy, the absence of a safety net for farmers, and lack of access to information related to agriculture as the chief causes for the desperate condition of farmers in the state."[34]

A 2012 study did a regional survey on farmers suicide in rural Vidarbha (Maharashtra) and applied a Smith's Saliency method to qualitatively rank the expressed causes among farming families who had lost someone to suicide.[36] The expressed reasons in order of importance behind farmer suicides were – debt, alcohol addiction, environment, low produce prices, stress and family responsibilities, apathy, poor irrigation, increased cost of cultivation, private money lenders, use of chemical fertilizers and crop failure.[36] In other words debt to stress and family responsibilities were rated as significantly higher than fertilizers and crop failure. In a different study in the same region in 2006, indebtedness (87%) and deterioration in the economic status (74%) were found to be major risk factors for suicide.[37]

Drought[edit]

As much as 80% of India's farmland relies on flooding during monsoon season, so inadequate rainfall can cause droughts, making crop failure more common.[38][39] In regions that have experienced droughts, crop yields have declined, and food for cattle has become scarcer.[40] Agricultural regions that have been affected by droughts have subsequently seen their suicide rates increase.[41]

New Economic Policy[edit]

Left leaning economists like Utsa Patnaik, Jayati Ghosh and Prabhat Patnaik suggest[42][43] that structural changes in the macro-economic policy of Indian Government that favoured privatisation, liberalisation and globalisation is the root cause of farmer suicides. Others[44][45] dispute such views.

GM crops[edit]

Crop coverage of bio-tech cotton (also called Bt cotton) and Farmer Suicides over time in Madhya Pradesh India, before and after the introduction of Bt cotton in 2002.[2]

A number of social activist groups and studies proposed a link between GM crops and farmer suicides.[31] Bt cotton (Bacillus thuringiensis cotton) was claimed to be responsible for farmer suicides.[46] The Bt cotton seeds cost nearly twice as much as ordinary ones. The higher costs forced many farmers into taking ever larger loans, often from private moneylenders charging exorbitant interest rates (60% a year). The moneylender was claimed to collect his dues at harvest time, by compelling farmers to sell their cotton to him at a price lower than it fetches on the market. According to activists, this created a source of debt and economic stress, ultimately suicides, among farmers. Scholars claim that this Bt cotton theory made certain assumptions and ignored field reality.[47]

The Bt cotton theory was challenged. In 2008, a report published by the International Food Policy Research Institute, an agriculture policy think tank based in Washington DC, stated that there was no evidence for an increased suicide rate following the 2002 introduction of Bt cotton.[48] The report stated that farmer suicides predate the official commercial introduction of Bt cotton by Monsanto Mahyco in 2002 (and its unofficial introduction by Navbharat Seeds in 2001) and that such suicides were a fairly constant portion of the overall national suicide rate since 1997.[31][48] The report concluded that while Bt cotton may have been a factor in specific suicides, the contribution was likely marginal compared to socio-economic factors.[31][48] Stone[47] suggests that the arrival and expansion of GM cotton led to a campaign of misinformation, by all sides, exacerbating the farmer's situation; activists have fuelled the persistence of a legend of failure and rejection of Bt cotton with sensational claims of livestock death and farmer suicide, while the other side has been incorrectly pronouncing Bt cotton a major success based on literature that is actually inconclusive. The cotton cash crop farmer's situation is complex and continues to evolve, suggests Stone.[47]

In 2011, a review of the evidence regarding the relationship between Bt cotton and farmers' suicides in India was published in the Journal of Development Studies, also by researchers from IFPRI, which found that "Available data show no evidence of a 'resurgence' of farmer suicides. Moreover, Bt cotton technology has been very effective overall in India."[49] Matin Qaim finds that Bt cotton is controversial in India, irrespective of the scholarly evidence. Anti-biotech activist groups in India repeat their claim that there is evidence of link between Bt cotton and farmers suicides, a claim that is perpetuated by mass media. This linking of farmers suicide and biotech industry has led to negative opinions in public policy making process.[50]

Suicide ideation[edit]

Patel et al. find[17] that southern Indian states have ten times higher rates of suicides than some northern states. This difference, they claim, is not because of misclassification of a person's death, for example as homicide, but because of regional causes. The most common cause for suicide in India's south are a combination of social issues, such as interpersonal and family problems, financial difficulties, and pre-existing mental illness. Suicidal ideation is as culturally accepted in south India as in some high-income countries. The high suicide rates in southern states of India may be, suggest Patel el al.,[17] in part because of social acceptance of suicide as a method to deal with difficulties.

State government field surveys[edit]

The Government of Maharashtra, concerned about the highest total number of farmer suicides among its rural populations, commissioned its own study into reasons. At its behest, Indira Gandhi Institute of Development Research in Mumbai[51] did field research and found the top causes of farmers suicides to be: debt, low income and crop failure, family issues such as illness and inability to pay celebration expenses for daughter's marriage, lack of secondary income occupations and lack of value-added opportunities.[52]

Responses to farmers' suicides[edit]

The government appointed a number of inquiries to look into the causes of farmers suicide and farm related distress in general. Krishak Ayog (National Farmer Commission) visited all suicide prone farming regions of India, then in 2006 published three reports with its recommendations.[53] Subsequently Prime Minister Manmohan Singh visited Vidarbha in 2006 and promised a package of ₹110 billion (about $2.4 billion). The families of farmers who had committed suicide were also offered an ex gratia grant to the tune of ₹100,000 (about $2,000) by the government, though this amount was changed several times.[54] 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[23] 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.[55]

2006 relief package[edit]

In 2006, the Government of India identified 31 districts in the four states of Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Karnataka, and Kerala with high relative incidence of farmers suicides.[56] A special rehabilitation package was launched to mitigate the distress of these farmers. The package provided debt relief to farmers, improved supply of institutional credit, improved irrigation facilities, employed experts and social service personnel to provide farming support services, and introduced subsidiary income opportunities through horticulture, livestock, dairying and fisheries. The Government of India also announced an ex-gratia cash assistance from Prime Ministers National Relief Fund to the farmers. Additionally, among other things, the Government of India announced:[56]

  • In the Vidarbha region of Maharashtra, that had received considerable mass media news coverage on farmer suicides, all farmer families of Vidarbha in six affected districts of Maharashtra were given a cash sum of INR05 million (US$82,000) each, to help pay off the debt principal.
  • INR7.12 billion (US$120 million) in interest owed, as of 30 June 2006, was waived. The burden of payment was shared equally between the Central and the State government.
  • The Government created a special credit vehicle for Vidarbha farmer, to the tune of INR12.75 billion (US$210 million). Special teams comprising NABARD and banks were deputed to ensure fresh credit starts flowing to all farmers of the region.
  • An allocation of INR21.77 billion (US$360 million) was made to improve the irrigation infrastructure so that the farmers of Vidarbha region had assured irrigation facilities in the future.

Agricultural debt waiver and debt relief scheme, 2008[edit]

The Government of India next implemented the Agricultural debt Waiver and Debt Relief Scheme, 2008 to benefit over 36 million farmers at a cost of INR653 billion (US$11 billion). This spending was aimed at writing of part of loan principal as well as the interest owed by the farmers. Direct agricultural loan by stressed farmers under so-called Kisan Credit Card were also be covered under this Scheme.[57]

Maharashtra Bill to regulate farmer loan terms, 2008[edit]

The State government of Maharashtra, one of the most farmer suicide affected states, passed the Money Lending (Regulation) Act, 2008 to regulate all private money lending to farmers. The bill set maximum legally allowed interest rates on any loans to farmers, setting it to be slightly above the money lending rate by Reserve Bank of India, and it also covered pending loans.[58]

Maharashtra relief package, 2010[edit]

The State Government of Maharashtra made it illegal, in 2010, for non-licensed moneylenders from seeking loan repayment. The State Government also announced[52] that it will from Village Farmer Self Help Groups, that will disburse government financed loans, a low rate Crop Insurance program whose premium will be paid 50% by farmer and 50% by government, launch of alternate income opportunities such as poultry, dairy and sericulture for farmers in high suicide prone districts. The government further announced that it will finance a marriage fund under its Samudaik Lagna with INR10 million (US$160,000) per year per district, for community marriage celebrations, where many couples get married at the same time to help minimise the cost of marriage celebrations – a cause of suicides among farmers as identified by its own study.[52]

Kerala Farmers' Debt Relief Commission (Amendment) Bill, 2012[edit]

Kerala, in 2012, amended the Kerala Farmers' Debt Relief Commission Act, 2006 to extend benefits to all distressed farmers with loans through 2011. It cited continuing farmer suicides as a motivation.[59]

2013 diversify income sources package[edit]

In 2013, the Government of India launched a Special Livestock Sector and Fisheries Package for farmers suicide-prone regions of Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Karnataka and Kerala. The package was aimed to diversify income sources of farmers. The total welfare package consisted of INR912 million (US$15 million).[60]

International comparison[edit]

Farmers suicide is a global phenomenon. Outside India, studies in Sri Lanka, USA, Canada, England and Australia have identified farming as a high stress profession that is associated with a high suicide rate than in general population. This is particularly true among small scale farmers and after periods of economic distress.[37] Fraser et al., similarly after a review of 52 scholarly publications, conclude that farming populations in the United Kingdom, Europe, Australia, Canada and the United States have the highest rates of suicide of any industry and there is growing evidence that those involved in farming are at higher risk of developing mental health problems. Their review claims a wide range of reasons behind farmers suicide globally including mental health issues, physical environment, family problems, economic stress and uncertainties.[61] Significantly higher suicide rate among farmers than general population have been reported in the developed countries such as UK and USA.[62][63][64]

In popular culture[edit]

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.[65] Prior to this The Dying Fields, a documentary directed by Fred de Sam Lazaro was aired in August 2007 on Wide Angle (TV series). 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.[66] Additionally, Peepli Live is a dark comic satire from 2010 depicting the state of farmers' suicides in the fictional Indian state of Mukhya Pradesh, and the political and media frenzy surrounding them.

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.[relevant? ]

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.[67]

  • Battle in Seattle, (a 2007 film that quotes the Indian suicide statistic in the end credits)

See also[edit]

General:

References[edit]

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  2. ^ a b Gruère, G. & Sengupta, D. (2011), Bt cotton and farmer suicides in India: an evidence-based assessment, The Journal of Development Studies, 47(2), pp 316–337
  3. ^ Gruère, G. & Sengupta, D. (2011), Bt cotton and farmer suicides in India: an evidence-based assessment, The Journal of Development Studies, 47(2), 316–337
  4. ^ Schurman, R. (2013), Shadow space: suicides and the predicament of rural India, Journal of Peasant Studies, 40(3), 597–601
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  20. ^ Glocal Hyperreal and the Sad Demise of the Corporeal: An Obituary
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