Statesman News Service
NEW DELHI, March 29: In a report vindicating the government’s move to waive farmers’ debt as announced in the Union Budget, the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UN-Escap) has pointed to the 86,922 farmer suicides in the country between 2001 and 2005.
Indicating the link between farm debt and agriculture crisis, the Escap report said this was evident from the large number of farmer suicides in some regions. “During 2001-05, 86,922 farmers committed suicides ~ 54 per cent from Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala and Maharashtra,” said the survey released here today. “Driving the distress were declining profitability, growing production and marketing risks, an institutional vacuum and lack of alternative livelihood opportunities.”
Lauding the government’s move to address the farm debt issue in the Union Budget, UN Under-Secretary General and ESCAP executive secretary, Ms Noeleen Heyzer, said “Agriculture needs another revolution for a further decline in the poverty levels, especially rural poverty.” Pointing out that Indian agriculture faced a crisis from debt, especially since the mid-1990s, the survey said “Of the estimated 89.3 million farmer households in 1993, 43.42 million (48.6 per cent) were indebted.” Quoting Indian government reports, it said, the average outstanding debt was Rs 12,585 per farmer household and Rs 25,902 per indebted farmer household.
Interest rates for home and car loans were lower than those for farm loans, the survey said, noting that even banks and micro-finance institutions charged 18-24 per cent on farm loans. Institutional debt could reduce the debt burden of farmers, it suggested.
The Escap report also said farmers indeb-tedness was low in less developed states and high in agriculturally developed states. More than half the indebted farmers took loans for capital or current business expenditure, accounting for 58.4 per cent of outstanding loans, it added.
Stating that the sources of the debt made a big difference, the report said at one end of the spectrum was Maharashtra, where institutional credit ac-co-unted for most of the indebtedness. On the other hand, in Andhra Pradesh, local moneylenders dominated the scene. Across India, more than two-fifths of debt was owed to non-institutional agencies, the report noted. Of this, 37.5 per cent carried an interest rate above 30 per cent
Survey report: http://www.unescap.org/survey2008/
Indian Country Background http://www.unescap.org/survey2008/notes/india.asp