Why Farmers In Maharashtra Are Committing Suicides & Can It Be Stopped?
More than 17,500 farmer suicides between 2002 and 2006 in India
Nearly 5,000 farmers committed suicides in Maharashtra during 2005-09
Since 2001, one Indian farmer has committed suicide every half hour.
Every seventh suicide in the country was a farm suicide. (Ref)
"228 farmers in the six identified suicide-prone districts of Vidarbha region committed suicide due to agrarian distress during the last ten months till January 31, 2013," Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar said in a written reply to the Rajya Sabha or Parliament's Upper House.
Suicide is a shocking occurrence for any family and when suicides happen on mass scale they become a concern for the society, local government as well as the higher government authorities of a country.
India, particularly Maharashtra has been witnessing increasing number of such incidents where farmers are killing themselves due to agrarian distress over the last few years.
Basically, India is an agrarian country where more than 60% population depends upon agriculture directly or indirectly. As the traditional Indian agricultural methods mainly make use of monsoons as the water resource, the agriculture becomes a gambling game with monsoon. The change in monsoon impacts the agriculture and its products significantly and the disappointing monsoon leads to farmers’ misfortune in form of droughts, lack of better prices and also exploitation through middlemen. All this scenario and aspects lead to the series of suicides happening in Maharashtra.
Noticeable suicides among farmers had been recorded since 1990s. Maharashtra is the first Indian state where suicides were reported which was followed by Andhra Pradesh and other states like Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh as well. Increasing incidents of suicides were recorded among cotton growers and also the professional farmers irrespective of their holding size. However, Vidarbha reported more number of farmers’ suicides while slowly the same problem could be witnessed in other parts of Maharashtra. More and more debt-burdened farmers started committing suicide after losing their battle with the day-to-day agriculture problems and other severe economic and climatic conditions.
There are some grave adversities that abet farmers to take the drastic step and commit suicide.
· Climate Change & Droughts
· Lack Of Sufficient Irrigation Projects
· Pressure Of Moneylenders
· Heavy Load-Shedding
· Ignorance Of Ancillary Occupations To Increase Income
· Rapid Urbanization And Decreasing Participation Of Young Generation In Agriculture
· Lack Of Political Support For Welfare & Development Of Affected Regions
Above are some of the reasons which cumulatively influence the worsening conditions of farmers and thus culminate into more suicides.
Farmers heavily rely on monsoon for their crops and severe droughts in the last few years left the farmers without any harvest. The farmers had spent enormous amounts on fertilizers, seeds and for other agricultural processes. Many of the farmers have borrowed the money from private moneylenders which they are not able to pay back due to the loss of crops.
Another important aspect was the GM crop following their failure an increase in farmer suicides was witnessed. As of 2009, 87% Indian cotton-growing land was used for Bt cotton. However, unfortunately, many of these farmers couldn’t gain whatever they invested. There is also a major absence of suitable counselling services for farmers which would guide them about various aspects related to agriculture from choice of crops, types of irrigation, seeds, fertilizers, alternative income sources and also the investments.
Indian government had decided and promised to increase the minimum rate for cotton by approximately ₹122.90 ($2) but changed the decision and reduced 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." (Reference)
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.
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.
Farmers are facing distressful socioeconomic conditions and urgently need help as Maharashtra faced consecutive drought situation in 2011-12 and 2012-13 due to deficit rains during intervening period. They also need assistance over issues like agricultural policies and initiatives at grass root level and government level too. Many young farmers want to switch their career due to insecurities involved in agriculture.
Suicide can be considered a psychological problem in general conditions, but in case of farmers it has taken a devastating form due to its alarming number. These incidents of suicides are a cumulative result of factors like
· Persistent indebtedness and inability to pay back
· Economic complications and family disputes
· Compensation to suicide affected family helps them to repay debt
· Plummeting costs of agricultural inputs & falling prices of produce
· Increasing interference of middlemen
What Is Needed
· Efficient counselling facilities
· Marketing and storage infrastructure
· Introduction of Innovative crop patterns
· Better rural credit delivery system
· Initiation of more self-help groups
· Increasing awareness among farmers
· Improved irrigation options
What We Can Do
We would like to appeal all our readers and well-wishers to step ahead and give their suggestions and remarks on what can be done to help farmers – who form a major part of society. The problem needs immediate and serial intervention – which may include doctors, researchers, psychiatrists, counsellors, agriculturalists, economists and every common individual who wants to help the distressed section of our society. It is our duty to assist the farmers to come out of the present dismal socioeconomic conditions and start afresh and be hopeful about a bright future.
All your suggestions and opinions are welcome; please do let us know on what initiatives can be taken to resolve these issues which lead to unfortunate incidents around us.