Report on farmer suicides to be submitted on 15th November, 2011

K Jayakumar
WAYANAD: A high level official team appointed by the government to inquire into the rising number of farmer suicides has said that the agrarian crisis in the district was severe. 

Additional chief secretary K Jayakumar, who heads the panel, said yesterday that the price fall of crops compounded the ordeal of farmers who are already reeling under the price hike of fertilisers. 

“We have found out that the issue is serious and requires urgent government intervention. A detailed picture of the looming crisis would be submitted to the government tomorrow for alerting them to take suitable steps,” said Jayakumar. 

In a short span of a few weeks, three farmers had committed suicide in the district reportedly due to mounting debt. 

The government has taken the situation seriously with the next cabinet meeting scheduled tomorrow is expected to come out with immediate steps asking the commercial banks to go slow on going ahead with recovery procedures against farmers and also provide some relief through a bailout package for the beleaguered farmers.

They live on borrowed time

KALPETTA: Amidst the arecanut and coconut garden sprawling over 1.37 acres of land in Thrikkeppatta lies the house of farmer P S Varghese who had committed suicide.

 At first sight one would wonder why a man who owned this much land and a beautifully-built house would end his life for having a financial debt of just over

Rs 3 lakh; perhaps, an amount of debt every Kerala family might have. An inquiry into this question would expose the other aspect of farmer suicides in Wayanad: the psychological, social and cultural factors and efforts to sustain the changing lifestyle.

The house of Varghese had roofing with asbestos sheets but he had managed to make it appear like a terrace building from a distance, even from the courtyard. “Be it in farming or in other matters, he had maintained certain standards. He had always talked about giving quality education to children and conducting their marriages properly. Perhaps, all these concerns coupled with consecutive loss in farming might have… Anyway, we could have avoided that even by selling a portion of our property,’’ said Jessy, Varghese’s wife, who has been working as a medical representative for the last 11 years and has three daughters – Renju, Sinju and Basily.

The story of deceased farmer C P Sasidharan in Mothakkara is somewhat different as he had never told anybody about his borrowings from private sources, not even to his wife Yasoda.

‘’He did not like being enquired about those things. When someone comes,

he used to talk to them outside the house. We came to know about such debts amounting to Rs 3 lakh from the suicide note only,’’ said Yasoda.

Sasidharan had been an active CPM worker and had a cordial relationship with the locals. “A week before his death, Sasidharan mobilised a sum of Rs 5000 to help one Vellan of the tribal hamlet who was admitted to hospital. Such a man could not keep that enthusiasm about his own life,’’ said Sasi, the brother-in-law of Sasidharan.

Clinically, these suicides are related to adjustment disorders with emotional disturbances. These are egoistic suicides due to mental stress, family problems and alcoholism besides agrarian crisis, says psychiatrist and former director of Institute of Mental and Neuro Sciences (IMHANS), Kozhikode, Dr Suresh Kumar, who has done extensive research in suicide in Wayanad. Dr Suresh adds, “Majority of farmers is under stress as they could not cope with the changed lifestyle. During the 1970s and 80s, they earned well and had a good living. Now, due to repeated crop failure, they fail to maintain their lifestyle and in turn resort to pseudo finance planning like using bank loans and money borrowed for high interest to sustain high quality lifestyle instead of investing in agriculture. The ego gets shattered when there is financial crisis. They cannot accept even a slight insult to ego. They suffer a mental breakdown and commit suicides.’’

According to relatives, two among the three deceased farmers had been victims of alcoholism as well. ‘’Often, these are not well-thought attempts but impulsive. The thinking will be tubular and the majority will consume alcohol during the time, which gives a pseudo energy to remove all inhibitions leading to suicide,’’ he said.

Kerala: Farmers’ suicides: Kisan Sabha to stage fast

The All India Kisan Sabha will stage a 24-hour mass hunger strike from 3 p.m. on Wednesday, demanding urgent measures to end suicides by farmers in Kerala.

The sabha, a feeder organisation of the Communist Party if India, is demanding Rs.5 lakh as solatium to the families of the farmers who had committed suicide, extension of debt-relief measures, and grant of low-interest loans to poor farmers.

Satyan Mokeri, general secretary of its State unit, told presspersons here on Sunday that a delegation of the sabha had visited Wayanad district to assess the situation. Agrarian crisis had intensified in Wayanad and other districts owing to a drop in the prices of ginger and banana.

Mr. Mokeri said seven farmers committed suicide recently, including one each in Kottayam and Thrissur districts. The others were in Wayanad, the victims being poor marginal farmers who had leased land in the district and neighbouring Karnataka for ginger cultivation along with raising plantains.

While ginger used to fetch about Rs.2,500 a 60-kg bag, the prices had now dropped to less than Rs.500 owing to the arrival of the produce from Nepal. Banana fetched only Rs.8-12 a kg now. As banks would not advance them loans, the farmers borrowed from moneylenders and micro-finance institutions at interest rates as high as 24 per cent. While the investment for cultivation of one acre of land was about Rs.2.5 lakh, the harvest yielded less than Rs.1.5 lakh.

The farmers who committed suicide were those not eligible for protection from the Farmers’ Debt Relief Commission as they had availed themselves of loans after 2009. The Farmers’ Debt Relief Act should be amended to extend coverage, along with extending the last date for filing applications. Loans taken from cooperatives and other institutions too should be brought under the purview of the Act.

Mr. Mokeri said the government should ensure that the interest rates for farm loans, including those from microfinance institutions, would not exceed 4 per cent. Interest-free loans should be extended to poor farmers. Steps should be taken to extend loans among other benefits to farmers cultivating leased land.

Chief Minister Oommen Chandy had been adopting a negative attitude towards the issue of farmers’ suicide, he alleged. The sabha would submit a detailed representation to him. A solidarity meeting would be organised on Wednesday evening as part of the hunger strike. National president of the sabha C. K. Chandrappan would inaugurate the fast.

Kerala: Church anguished over farmers suicides

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Published Date: November 11, 2011

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Church people in Kerala say suicides by debt-ridden farmers are still occurring despite the introduction of several Church welfare schemes to help them.

“It’s so sad people are taking their lives because of financial difficulties,” said Mananthavady diocese spokesman Father Thomas Therakam, adding that three farmers in Wayanad district committed suicide last week.

The district had reported over 300 farmer suicides between 2001 and 2007 as a result of crop failures. Most of them had taken out loans from banks or money lenders.

According to Fr Therakam, many projects the Church started in association with Caritas India helped reduce the number of suicides in the last few years.

“But unfortunately, they are still occurring. We will step up our counseling and other campaigns to support the farmers,” the priest said.

The latest cases were farmers who incurred debts after the prices of ginger and bananas plummeted this season.

Fr John Choorapuzhayil, who directs the Wayanad Social Service Society, wants the government to fix a minimum price on produces.

As for the Church, its people should reach out more to all villagers, he said.

Others say simply talking to people will not be enough.

Raju Chovattukunnel, a layman, wants each parish to set up an emergency fund to provide financial aid to farmers.

“Counseling alone will not bring solace to farmers heavily in debt,” he warned.

Farmer suicides becomes a burning issue again in Kerala districts

KOCHI: After a long time, farmers’ suicides have become a burning issue in Kerala with three incidents being reported from Wayanad district in a week.

Falling prices, crop failure and mounting debts have been identified as reasons behind these incidents. Varghese (48), Asokan (45) and Sasidharan (35) have ended their lives due to a steep fall in the prices of ginger and plantain.

Wayanad district collector K Gopalakrishna Bhat has convened a meeting to take stock of the situation. He told ET that of the three farmers, one had taken loans mostly from private moneylenders. The other two had taken credit from commercials banks. Wayanad turned out to be Kerala’s Vidarbha when more than 500 farmers ended lives between 2001 and 2006.

The hill regions of Wayanad are known for the long-gestation plantation crops like tea, coffee and pepper. Fluctuations in prices, climatic changes and disease-related problems have prompted many farmers to shift to annual crops like ginger and plantain. Lured by the good prices of these crops, many farmers started cultivation on leased land in Karnataka.

“Farmers go for intensive cultivation by investing heavily on land, fertilisers and pesticides. When crops fail or prices fall, they suffer huge losses,” said Narayanankutty, head of agriculture station, Wayanad, under the Kerala Agriculture University.

Wayanad-based social worker and farmer Jose Sebastian said: “Farming in Wayanad has become a gamble”.

The demand for land in Karnataka has gone up so much that the lease rentals, which were in the range of Rs 2,000 per acre 10 years ago have touched Rs 70,000 per acre, he said. High ginger prices, triggered by a shortfall in output last year, could have attracted more farmers to the spice.

Dry ginger prices had zoomed to Rs 200 per kg last year, prompting several farmers to go outside the state to cultivate the crop. As a result, production has gone up this year and the prices have fallen to half the rates prevalent last year.

A senior official of the Spices Board said this often happens when the prices go up. Kerala and Karnataka are the main producers of dry ginger with a total production of around 50,000 tonne.

Similarly, in the case of plantains, the farmers are negotiating a price fall of nearly 40% in this season. The prices that ruled at around Rs 25 per kg have dropped to Rs 15 in the last three months. Heavy rains have caused widespread damage to the crop during the past few weeks.

Narayanankutty added that a national agricultural innovation project is being implemented in Wayanad to train farmers in multi-mode farming instead of focusing on one activity. The farmers are introduced to new varieties of paddy and vegetables and trained in poultry and goat rearing.

Third farmer suicide in a week in Wayanad district

Posted on: 08 Nov 2011

 Thiruvananthapuram: A day after another farmer, suspected to be under debt, committed suicide in Kerala, the government Tuesday said it would look into all aspects of the problem. This was the third farmer suicide in Wayanad district in the last one week.

Vergheese committed suicide Monday. According to his relatives, he was under a debt of Rs.5 lakh after his crop failed.

Agriculture Minister K.P. Mohanan said: ‘I have already asked the authorities to provide me full details of loans availed from banks by farmers in Wayanad.’

‘We will seriously look into all the issues and act accordingly. The government will also look into what can be done to provide some solace to the families of those farmers who have taken their lives,’ he said.

‘It appears the dreaded scenario of the past is returning to Wayanad and this is because of the fall in prices of ginger and banana. It appears the schemes of the government are not reaching people. Something has to be done immediately,’ said social activist A.L. Prabakaran.

Between 2001-06 Wayanad district saw close to 249 farmer suicides. At that time, the Congress was in power and the Left opposition blamed the government’s flawed policies for the suicides.

Kerala: Three farmers’ suicides in one week

Three debt-ridden farmers in Kerala’s Wayanad district have committed suicide in the last one week, triggering panic in the region where scores of farmers ended their lives in the early years of the last decade.

According to the police, the three farmers who committed suicide had incurred financial liability from ginger and banana cultivations. Wayanad farmers tend to take huge tracts of land on lease in Kodagu and cultivate ginger, while banana cultivation is prevalent mainly in the home district.

While both crops commanded high prices in the market until a year ago, the prices have plunged this season, forcing the farmers to go in for distress sales. The dead farmers had financial liability up to Rs 4 lakh.

Wayanad had reported 321 cases of farmers’ suicides from 2001 to 2007 due to failed crops, particularly pepper. Since then, hundreds of farmers turned to ginger farming. The price of ginger dropped to Rs 110-115 per kg in the market from a high of Rs 240 per kg during the last season.