by Current Affairs Editorials


In the din of the Indo-US Nuclear Agreement, a more important one meriting even more media focus and public attention has been relegated to lower priority. Although the Left had opposed this one too, it was more out of habit than any sense of national responsibility.

The KIA was announced during Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s visit to the USA in Jul 2005 and finalized along with the Indo – US Nuclear Deal during President George Bush’s visit to India in Mar 2006. It hopes to boost agricultural cooperation between India and the US, promote agricultural interaction in sectors like food processing and marketing, biotechnology, water management, and capacity building at universities.

Merits of the Agreement

1. KIA will usher in emerging trends in agriculture arising out of global warming, new pests, and natural resources depletion.

2. Enhance the role of private sector in agriculture.

3. Help reduce food wastage by improved marketing infrastructure and resource conservation technologies.


1. The KIA paves the way for more agriculture patents, making farmers dependent on private firms for technology. According to Centre for Sustainable Agriculture (CSA) the KIA may be ideal for the “American Model” of agriculture, heavily dependent on patents and enhanced use of biotechnology, will threaten the livelihood of the Indian farmers.

2. The KIA is not farmer friendly in India. The KIA is driven by corporate interests to establish intellectual property rights-based controls on resources and technologies in India. This model of agriculture is propped up by subsidies and sustains about two percent of the US population. In India, where over 60% of the population depends on agriculture, the model is ecologically, socially and economically unadaptable.

3. The KIA is a corporate friendly exercise. India would do well to remember the BT cotton seeds example where the seed firms have established a near-monopoly and reduced the state to a party fighting a losing battle to lower the cost of BT seeds or even make the seeds available. The consequences of similar outcome for every other crop can only be imagined.

4. Transfer protocol of bio-resources for research unclear; so danger of bio-piracy. KIA remains vague on the terms of transfer of Indian genetic resources to the US for research. This leaves open the possibility of Indian bio-resources transported to US and elsewhere.

5. Thrust is on new research rather than better efficiency of existing technologies. KIA is also out of step with Planning Commission’s approach paper to the 11th Plan and the “Draft Kisan Policy” laid down by the National Commission on Farmers. Both these documents stress on bridging the gap between what is possible with existing technology in the labs and what farmers achieve on ground. The KIA pushes scientists further back into the labs.

6. Major agri-business corporations well represented on the KIA Board. The KIA Board counts members like Ted Huffman (Director of Wal-mart’s Supply Chain in India), Rashmi Nair (Director Strategic Integration, Monsanto) and S Sivakumar (CEO of ITC Ltd’s Agri-business Division) as representing business interests. The only NGO representation is that of Marshall Bouton, Executive Director, Chicago Council on Foreign Relations.


No matter what the merits / demerits of the Agreement, India cannot afford to ignore the impact it would have on the hapless community of Indian farmers already reeling under strain of the BT cotton controversy and the large numbers of farmer suicides.

‘Punjab: 3,000 farmer suicides in 8 years’

Priya Yadav, TNN, 24 January 2010, 04:44am IST

CHANDIGARH: While Punjab remains, in popular perception, the land of plenty, a group of economists at Punjab Agriculture University (PAU) has revealed that the picture isn’t rosy at all — in fact it’s grim.

Rural indebtedness has touched Rs 35,000 crore and, worse, 3,000 debt-ridden farmers have committed suicide in the last eight years. Economists are also relating the suicides with high illiteracy among the poor farmers and say Punjab needs to increase expenditure on education.

“Rural debts are mounting rapidly and have touched Rs 35,000 crore in the year 2009-2010 as against Rs 21,640 crore in 2007,” said Sukhpal Singh, senior PAU economist in Ludhiana. In the first such survey commissioned by the Punjab government, door-to-door survey of two districts indicated that nearly 3,000 farmers had killed themselves in the last eight years. “About 38% of these were 20 to 30 years old and 60% had unpaid debts. Significantly, 47% suicides were by illiterate,” said Sukhpal Singh.

It’s the small farm holdings, of two acres or less, which have made farming economically unviable and driven farmers who took debts to keep their crop alive to kill themselves. “A follow up at the homes of suicides have shown that nearly 25% of such families sold off their land after the death,” said Sukhpal.

Inderjit Singh Jaijee, who launched Movement Against State Repression, blamed the government for keeping farmers’ suicides under wraps. “Most of these suicides are unreported because suicide is a criminal offence and families avoid going to the police. This helps the state to go into denial about these tragic deaths at the grassroots,” Jaijee said.

Linking the suicides to not just farm indebtedness but also to lack of education, R S Ghuman, professor and head of Economics, Punjabi University, said, “The state budget on education and its infrastructure is mere 11% and just 3.7% of children in Punjab are getting into professional education.” Emphasising on the need for better education infrastructure, Ghuman said, “The drop out rate in schools is unacceptably high at 60% until class X. This is making the farmers, especially those holding small farms, completely dependent on farming as a source of raising money to support their families.

Farm suicides: a 12-year saga

P. SAINATHLIVING IN HOPE: A farmer looks up the sky at drought hit Morahu Village near Allahabad. File photo: PTI

PTILIVING IN HOPE: A farmer looks up the sky at drought hit Morahu Village near Allahabad. File photo: PTI

The loan waiver year of 2008 saw 16,196 farm suicides in the country, according to the National Crime Records Bureau. Compared to 2007, that’s a fall of just 436. As economist Professor K. Nagaraj who has worked in-depth on farm suicide data says, “the numbers leave little room for comfort and none at all for self-congratulation.” There were no major changes in the trend that set in from the late 1990s and worsened after 2002. The dismal truth is that very high numbers of farm suicides still occur within a fast decreasing farm population.

Between just the Census of 1991 and that of 2001, nearly 8 million cultivators quit farming. A year from now, the 2011 Census will tell us how many more quit in this decade. It is not likely to be less. It could even dwarf that 8 million figure as the exodus from farming probably intensified after 2001. The State-wise farm suicide ratios — number of farmers committing suicide per 100,000 farmers — are still pegged on the outdated 2001 figures. So the 2011 Census, with more authentic counts of how many farmers there really are, might provide an unhappy update on what is going on.

Focussing on farm suicides as a share of total suicides in India misleads. That way, it’s “aha! the percentage is coming down.” That’s silly. For one thing, the total number of suicides (all groups, not just farmers) is increasing — in a growing population. Farm suicides are rising within a declining farm population. Two, an all-India picture disguises the intensity. The devastation lies in the Big 5 States (Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh). These account for two-thirds of all farm suicides during 2003-08. Take just the Big 5 — their percentage of all farm suicides has gone up. Worse, even their percentage of total all-India suicides (all categories) has risen. Poor States like Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh are doing very badly for some years now.

In the period 1997-2002, farm suicides in the Big 5 States accounted for roughly one out of every 12 of all suicides in the country. In 2003-08, they accounted for nearly one out of every 10.

The NCRB now has farm suicide data for 12 years. Actually, farm data appear in its records from 1995 onwards, but some States failed to report for the first two years. Hence 1997, from when all States are reporting their farm suicide data, is a more reliable base year. The NCRB has also made access much easier by placing all past years of “Accidental Deaths & Suicides in India” reports on its website.

The 12-year period allows us to compare farm suicide numbers for 1997-2002, with how they turned out in the next 6-year period of 2003-2008. All 12 years were pretty bad, but the latter six were decidedly worse.

Reading a ‘trend’ into a single year’s dip or rise is misleading. Better to look at 3-year or 6-year periods within 1997-2008. For instance, Maharashtra saw a decline in farm suicide numbers in 2005, but the very next year proved to be its worst ever. Since 2006, the State has been the focus of many initiatives. Manmohan Singh’s visit to Vidharbha that year brought the “Prime Minister’s Relief Package” of Rs.3,750 crore for six crisis-ridden districts of the region. This came atop Chief Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh’s Rs.1,075 crore “CM’s relief package.” Then followed the nearly Rs.9,000 crore that was Maharashtra’s share of the Rs.70,000-crore Central loan waiver for farmers. To which the State government added Rs.6,200 crore for those farmers not covered by the waiver. The State added Rs.500 crore for a one-time settlement (OTS) for poor farmers who had been excluded from the waiver altogether because they owned over five acres of land.

In all, the amounts committed to fighting the agrarian crisis in Maharashtra exceeded Rs. 20,000 crore across 2006, 2007 and 2008. (And that’s not counting huge handouts to the sugar barons.) Yet, that proved to be the worst three-year period ever for any State at any time since the recording of farm data began. In 2006-08, Maharashtra saw 12, 493 farm suicides. That is nearly 600 more than the previous worst of 2002-2005 and 85 per cent higher than the 6,745 suicides recorded in the three-year period of 1997-1999. The same government was in power, incidentally, in the worst six years. Besides, these higher numbers are emerging within a shrinking farm population. By 2001, 42 per cent of Maharashtra’s population was already urban. Its farmer base has certainly not grown.

So was the loan waiver useless? The idea of a waiver was not a bad thing. And it was right to intervene. More that the specific actions were misguided and bungled. Yet it could also be argued that but for the relief the waiver brought to some farmers at least, the suicide numbers of 2008 could have been a lot worse. The waiver was a welcome step for farmers, but its architecture was flawed. A point strongly made in this journal ( Oh! What a lovely waiver, March 10, 2008). It dealt only with bank credit and ignored moneylender debt. So only those farmers with access to institutional credit would benefit. Tenant farmers in Andhra Pradesh and poor farmers in Vidharbha and elsewhere get their loans mainly from moneylenders. So, in fact, farmers in Kerala, where everyone has a bank account, were more likely to gain. (Kerala was also the one State to address the issue of moneylender debt.)

The 2008 waiver also excluded those holding over five acres, making no distinction between irrigated and unirrigated land. This devastated many struggling farmers with eight or 10 acres of poor, dry land. On the other hand, West Bengal’s farmers, giant numbers of small holders below the 5-acre limit, stood to gain far more.

Every suicide has a multiplicity of causes. But when you have nearly 200,000 of them, it makes sense to seek broad common factors within that group. Within those reasons. As Dr. Nagaraj has repeatedly pointed out, the suicides appear concentrated in regions of high commercialisation of agriculture and very high peasant debt. Cash crop farmers seemed far more vulnerable to suicide than those growing food crops. Yet the basic underlying causes of the crisis remained untouched. The predatory commercialisation of the countryside; a massive decline in investment in agriculture; the withdrawal of bank credit at a time of soaring input prices; the crash in farm incomes combined with an explosion of cultivation costs; the shifting of millions from food crop to cash crop cultivation with all its risks; the corporate hijack of every major sector of agriculture including, and especially, seed; growing water stress and moves towards privatisation of that resource. The government was trying to beat the crisis — leaving in place all its causes — with a one-off waiver.

In late 2007, The Hindu carried (Nov. 12-15) the sorry result emerging from Dr. Nagaraj’s study of NCRB data: that nearly 1.5 lakh peasants had ended their lives in despair between 1997 and 2005. Just days later, Union Minister for Agriculture Sharad Pawar confirmed those figures in Parliament (Rajya Sabha Starred Question No. 238, Nov. 30, 2007) citing the same NCRB data. It’s tragic that 27 months later, the paper had to run a headline saying that the number had climbed to nearly 2 lakh. The crisis is very much with us. Mocking its victims, heckling its critics. And cosmetic changes won’t make it go away.

In 2006-08, Maharashtra saw 12, 493 farm suicides. That is 85 per cent higher than the 6,745 suicides it recorded during 1997-1999. And the worst three-year period for any State, any time.

Nearly 2 lakh farm suicides since 1997

P. Sainath

Over two-thirds in ‘suicide belt’ of five States, more than one-fifth in Maharashtra

MUMBAI: There were at least 16,196 farmers’ suicides in India in 2008, bringing the total since 1997 to 199,132, according to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB).

The share of the Big 5 States or ‘suicide belt’ in 2008 — Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, and Chhattisgarh — remained very high at 10,797, or 66.6 per cent of the total farm suicides in the country. This was marginally higher than it was in 2007 (66.2 per cent). Maharashtra remains the worst State in the nation for farm suicides with a total of 3802. (This is just 40 short of the combined total of Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka.) The all-India total of 16,196 represents a fall of 436 from 2007. But the broad trends of the past decade reflect no significant change. The national average for farm suicides since 2003 stays at roughly one every 30 minutes.

Within the Big 5, Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, and Chhattisgarh recorded higher numbers. The increase of 604 in these three States somewhat offset the dip in Maharashtra (436) and Karnataka (398). But a fall in suicide numbers in other States (for example, a decline of 412 in Kerala and 343 in West Bengal) means that the Big 5 marginally increased their two-thirds share of total farm suicides in 2008.

The NCRB data now cover all States for 12 years from 1997. In the first six years (1997-2002), the Big 5 witnessed 55,769 farmers’ suicides. From 2003 to 2008, they totalled 67,054, a rise of nearly 1900 a year on average.

Maharashtra has logged 41,404 farm suicides from 1997 (over a fifth of the national total) and 44,468 from 1995, the year when this State began recording farm data. No other State comes close. During 1997-2002, Maharashtra saw, on average, eight farmers kill themselves daily. The corresponding figure rose to 11 during 2003-2008. The rise was from an average of 2,833 farm suicides a year in the first period to an average of 4,067 in the next period.

Professor K. Nagaraj, an economist who has worked at the Madras Institute of Development Studies, says of the NCRB data: “There is hardly any decline in the suicide belt, though individual States may show variations across 12 years. If this is the state for 2008, the year of the Rs. 70,000 crore loan waiver and multiple farm packages, then 2009, a drought year, could show very disturbing figures. The underlying agrarian problems seem as acute as ever.”