Farmer suicide in india

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India is an agrarian country with around 60% of its people depending directly or indirectly upon agriculture. Agriculture in India is often attributed as gambling with monsoons because of its almost exclusive dependency on precipitation from monsoons. The failure of these monsoons can lead to a series of droughts, lack of better prices, and exploitation of the farmers by middlemen, all of which have led to a series of suicides committed by farmers across India.[1]


Significant reporting on suicides among farmers in India began in the 1990s 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.[16] In the beginning it was believed that most of the suicides were happening among the cotton growers, especially those from Vidarbha.[17] 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.[18] Moreover, it was not just the farmers from Vidarbha but all over Maharashtra who showed a significantly high suicide rate.[19][20] 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, though this amount was changed several times.[21]


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.[2]

Others traced the increase in farmer suicides to the early 1990s.[3][4] It was said, a comprehensive all-India study is still awaited, that most suicides occurred in states of Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Kerala andPunjab.[5][6][7][8][9] The situation was grim enough to force at least the Maharashtra government to set up a dedicated office to deal with farmers distress.[10] In 2006, the state of Maharashtra, 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.[11] 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.[12]

According to government data, over 5,000 farmers committed suicide in 2005-2009 in Maharashtra, while 1,313 cases reported 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.[13] In April 2009, the state of Chattisgarh reported 1,500 farmers committed suicide due to debt and crop failure.[14] 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 Bureau (NCRB).[15]


Research by various investigators like Raj Patel,[2] Nagraj,[19][20] Srijit,[22] Behere and Behere,[23] and Meeta and Rajivlochan,[3] identified a variety of causes. India was transforming rapidly into a primarily urban, industrial society with industry as its main source of income; the government and society had become unconcerned about the condition of the countryside; moreover, a downturn in the urban economy was pushing a large number of distressed non-farmers to try their hand at cultivation; the farmer was also caught in a Scissors Crisis; in the absence of any responsible counseling either from the government or society there were many farmers who did not know how to survive in the changing economy. Such stresses pushed many into a corner where suicide became an option. Research in Andhra Pradesh showed the very rapid change in seed and pesticide products to have caused “deskilling” in the cotton sector.[24]

Drought is also one of the main causes

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.[25][26] In regions that have experienced droughts, crop yields have declined, and food for cattle has become scarcer.[27] Agricultural regions that have been affected by droughts have subsequently seen their suicide rates increase.[28] Farm suicides rise in Maharashtra, State still leads the list It accounted for well over a fifth of the total of 14,027 deaths in 2011 With a figure of at least 14,027 in 2011, according to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), the total number of farm suicides since 1995 has touched 2,70, 940.

The State of Maharashtra shows a rise in numbers yet again, logging 3,337 against 3,141 farmers’ suicides the previous year (and 2,872 in 2009). This, despite heavy massaging of data at the State level for years now, even re-defining of the term “farmer” itself. And despite an orchestrated (and expensive) campaign in the media and other forums by governments and major seed corporations to show that their efforts had made things a lot better. Maharashtra remains the worst single State for farm suicides for over a decade now. The total number of farmers who have taken their own lives in Maharashtra since 1995 is closing in on 54,000. Of these 33,752 have occurred in nine years since 2003, at an annual average of 3,750. The figure for 1995-2002 was 20,066 at an average of 2,508. Significantly, the rise is occurring even as the farm population is shrinking a fact broadly true across the country.

And more so in Maharashtra which has been urbanising more rapidly than most. The rising-suicides-shrinking-population equation suggests a major intensification of the pressures on the community. A better understanding of that, though, awaits the new farm population figures of the 2011 Census — not expected for many months from now. At present both national and State-wise farm suicide ratios (the number of farmers committing suicide per 100,000 farmers) are based on very outdated 2001 Census numbers.

Big five States

The 2011 total gets dicey with Chhattisgarh’s posting a figure of zero farm suicides. A zero figure should be great news. Except that Chhattisgarh had 7,777 farm suicides in the preceding five years, including 1,126 in 2010. It has been amongst the very worst States for such deaths for several years. The share of the worst (Big 5) states (Maharashtra, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh) as a percentage of total farm suicides, is now around 64 per cent. Even with Chhattisgarh showing a ‘zero’ figure, that is not much lower than the preceding five-year average for the Big 5 of close to 66 per cent. It could be that Chhattisgarh’s figures have simply not made it to the NCRB in time. Otherwise, it means that the State is in fact a late entrant to the numbers massage parlour. Others have been doing it for years.

Maharashtra since 2007, following the Prime Minister’s visit to Vidarbha. Union Minister for Agriculture Sharad Pawar has strictly avoided using NCRB farm data in Parliament since 2008 because the data are unpleasant. (The union government however quotes the NCRB for all other categories). Now, governments are deep into fiddling the data that goes from the States to the NCRB. With the Big 5 also staring drought in the face, what numbers the coming season will throw up is most worrying. Within Maharashtra, Vidarbha and Marathwada have already been under great stress (which in turn pushes officials to step up data fiddles). If the numbers are re-calculated using the annual average of Chhattisgarh in the past five years, the national total of farm suicides for 2011 would be 15,582.

And the share of the Big 5 (at 10,524) would be nearly 68 per cent. That’s higher than the five-year average for those States, too. In 1995, the first time the NCRB tabulated farm suicide data, the Big 5 accounted for 56.04 per cent of all farm suicides. In 2011, five States showed increases of over 50 farm suicides compared to 2010. These included Gujarat (55), Haryana (87), Madhya Pradesh (89), Tamil Nadu (82). Maharashtra alone showed a rise of 196. Nine States showed declines exceeding 50 farm suicides, of which Karnataka (485) and Andhra Pradesh (319) and West Bengal (186) claimed the biggest falls. That, of course, after Chhattisgarh, which claimed a decline of 1,126, with its zero farm suicides figure in 2011.

Excessive use of chemical pesticides, erratic rainfall, heavy debt burden, and spurious seeds are taking a heavy toll on farmers in the perennially drought-hitMahbubnagar district. As many as 20 farmers have committed suicide in the district in the last three months. They have taken the desperate step unable to bear the losses due to frequent crop failures or clear the mounting agricultural debts. Insufficient loan advances by banks and high interest ratescollected by private moneylenders too have played their part in the sucides.

Even as the state government is busy organizing Rythu Chaitanya Yatralu to update farmers on the latest innovations in agriculture, farmers are being sucked into the morass of debts and taking their lives unable to make both ends meet. Reflecting this grim reality, two more cases of farm suicides have been reported from the drought-bit Mahbubnagar district. While a farmer committed suicide on Monday, another consumed pesticide to end his life on Tuesday.

Farmer Suicides – how can we prevent them? Agriculture has always been celebrated as the primary sector in India. India is an agrarian economy, which means, Agriculture is the pre-dominant 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.

The solution to the farmer’s plight should be directed towards enabling the farmers to help themselves and sustain on their own. Temporary measures through monetary relief would not be the solution. The efforts should be targeted at improving the entire structure of the small farmers wherein the relief is not given on a drought to drought basis, rather they are taught to overcome their difficulties through their own skills and capabilities.

The Government needs to come up with pro-active solutions and the nation has to realize that farmers’ suicides are not minor issues happening in remote parts of a few states, it is a reflection of the true state of the basis of our economy. “Give a man a fish, he will eat for a day but teach him how to fish, he will eat for the rest of his life”, so goes the popular saying, the case of our Indian farmers is similar to this, what they need is a means to sustain throughout their lives without having the face the desperation that adversity drives them to. If India has to shine, it is these farmers that need to be empowered.

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