Suicidal tendency among the Indian farmers: How much we know about it


India is considered as a fast moving economy with good potentials in human development and massive industrial advancement. Despite this economic achievement, desperate farmers in some region s of the country are committing suicide with the hope of getting relief from their enormous debt and ill-fated life. It’s gradually turning into an epidemic in India, where farmers find themselves trapped in a vicious cycle of poverty with frequent drought and but on the other hand the outside world sees India as the next Asian Tiger.

Since 1997, more than 25,000 farmers have committed suicide across the country, many consuming the chemical that was supposed to make their crops more productive. Machinery, chemical fertilizers, pesticides, and hybrid seeds , all of which originated in the West, on the contrary spell disaster here rather than prosperity as Indian farmers witness the other side of globalization very closely. The tragedy unfolds largely from crop failure, drought, pests, and pesticides that small farmers don’t have the means to face. The tendency is higher in Warangal District of Andhra Pradesh which is a suicide belt consisting districts of Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka. Apart from this region, Royalaseema, Anantapur, Vidarbha area in East Maharashtra and in certain other districts in northern Karnataka also face the tragedy.

The government of India has taken decisions on macro-economic policies, approved plans for big dams, ports and roads, established Social Economic Zones, cut taxes on computer accessories, and undertaken big development projects. But these farmers got very little benefit from the government , as for they do not get what they actually need and deserve. The modest list of government’s response includes free electricity for agriculture, waiver of electricity dues and Rs.150, 000 as financial assistance for the relatives of the farmers who committed suicide in 2006 is in no way to redress the problems of the farmers.

Government support price for the farmers is too low; a recent study done by the Government of Andhra Pradesh reported that more than 55 percent of the farmers are not getting the ‘Minimum Support Price’. For instance, In Anantapur district, about 90% of the holdings are small and marginal. They are under immense pressure owing to the vagaries of market and non-institutional forces that control credit and output. Most of the farmers are very much tied in the hands of the traders and middlemen who often take advantage of their poverty and desperation. This depresses the price that farmers should get for their output. Additionally, cost of cultivation has increased manifold since 1990s. In 2006, the government-sponsored cotton marketing federation purchased 13, 00,000 quintals of raw cotton from its 100-odd procurement centres, while the private traders have purchased 68,00,000 quintals till December 31. On the other hand, farmers in the region have produced over 220,00,000 raw cotton only in 2006. Poor farmers sometimes look for a helping hand from the agricultural or commercial banks; but these institutions give loan at very high interest rates and ask for collateral, which the farmers fail to produce.

Several non-governmental organizations including banks, research centers are trying to implement strategies aiming at increasing these farmers’ income by 3 to 4 times through better co-ordination and synergizing the available resources. They through several studies found out that the government apathy, the absence of a safety net for farmers, lack of finance and lack of access to information related to agriculture are the major causes for the desperate condition of farmers.

Less expensive, lower-risk organic farming methods might offer a solution for the cotton-growing crisis in India. But without a change in agriculture policy and practices, thousands more Indian farmers are likely to continue to take their own lives.

‘Fastest growing free market democracy’ a slogan that the Indians use to glorify them is not implacable for most of the Indians; 44% of the population still lives below the international standard of $1 per day, and as many as 86% live below $2 per day. It is probably necessary for the policy makers to go into the depth of the problem with an open mind and search for a genuine solution. More public and private investments in the rural areas along with introduction of micro-credit could be considered as a long term solution. Lowering interest rates will also be important to make cheaper credit available. Side by side, the government should take steps to make fertilizer, pesticide and seeds easily available to the poor and really deserving farmers. Free counseling to handle the problems and educating the farmers in modern methods of cultivation would definitely restore confidence among the farmers, which in turn would reduce the frustration among them.

The cotton farmers nightmare



For weeks, Lakshman Gadwe (65) watched helplessly as his cotton crop was ravaged by pests. He could not afford to buy pesticides to salvage his crop. When he finally bought a bottle of the potent chemical, he did not use it to save his crop. He swallowed it and took his life.

After spending almost Rs 70,000 on his land holding of 28 acres his returns were less than Rs 30,000. His crop yield was 20 per cent of the normal crop. “Since the cooperative bank loan did not cover the costs, he had borrowed from money lenders and relatives. To repay the debts, he forced to sell the land that he worked so hard to buy,” says his son Prakash, a resident of Januna in Nandgaon taluka of Amravati district.

With a massive crop loss in the last year, 82 suicides by farmers were reported in the state. Sixty of these were in the Vidarbha region, where more than half the crop was ravaged by unseasonal rains and hail during the harvest season. Attributing most of the deaths to extraneous factors like “family problems”, the state government has given monetary compensation to only 10 of the victims’ families.

While the state government nitpicks over doling out compensation, defects underlying the agricultural economy, which push farmers to the edge, say observers. By attributing the crisis to a ‘natural calamity’, the government has conveniently shrugged off responsibility for its failure to tackle the real problems – meagre bank credit, reliance on moneylenders, faulty agricultural practices and exploitation by traders.

Marginal support from the mainstream banking sector has led to an overweaning dependence on money lenders. According to estimates of the Vidarbha Shekari Janandolan Samiti, banks lend only 10 per cent of Vidarbha’s credit requirements. “Banks favour big farmers. Others are forced to rely on the money lenders, who charge interest ranging from 60 to 120 per cent per year. In addition, some people have to mortgage their land or house,” says Dilip Ikhad, a marginal farmer from Anjangaon Bari in Amravati district.

According to farmers, the amount disbursed by the ban does not even cover half the cost of agricultural inputs like seeds, fertilisers and labour. “this has resulted in unscientific agricultural practices,” says B.T. Talhande, joint director of agriculture, Amravati.

Unsustainable agriculture has made the crop more vulnerable to natural calamities like pest attacks and climatic variations. “During the beginning of the monsonn when the rains are essential for germination, the rainfall was scanty. Then, during the harvesting season for jowar, unseasonal rain destroyed the crop. Due to the humidity, the pests multiplied, destroying the cotton crop,” Mr Talhande explains.

The government provides farmers with little buffer from such calamities. The crop insurance scheme, designed to compensate farmers in the event of crop loss has failed. This, in a region which relies almost entirely on the monsoons. Only 10 per cent of the land here is under irrigation, as compared to the national figure of 34 per cent.

The crop insurance scheme covers only the small sections that gets bank credit. Narrowing its reach even further is the fact that only four crops – jowar, tur, soyabean and groundnut – are insured. Cotton, the main cash crop here, is not included. Moreover, bank officials point out that the state government’s method of assessing crop loss is totally skewed. Instead of assessing crop loss at the village level, inquiries are made at the taluka office about the general productivity. Despite widespread damage in the last season, the state government has not yet disbursed insurance claims.

Profitability has been further lowered by the exploitative pricing. A sharp increase in input prices has made it almost impossible for farmers to make ends meet. “while the costs of inputs like seeds and fertiliser have been soaring every year, the market prices, controlled by the traders cartel, have more or less remained constant. Is it too much to ask for a fair price for our produce?” asks N.B. Gavalkar, a farmer from Dahegaon in Wardha district.

The state government’s monopoly cotton procurement scheme was designed ot guarantee cotton growers a fair price for their produce. Yet, many marginal farmers sell their cotton to traders at prices lower than the cotton federation. “It costs more to transport the cotton to the federation. There, you have to wait in queue for days. Besides, we have to pay off our loans quickly. Cheques from the federation take weeks to arrive,” says Dilip Ikhad.

Falling yields have also reduced profit margins. “Yields have declined owing to monoculture and soil imbalance. People have been using only urea, which is the cheapest fertiliser. As a result, there is less of potash and phosphorus in the soil. Grwoing pest resistance has also resulted in an overuse of pesticides. Biofertilisers and multiple cropping must be introduced,” says Yavatmal district collector Rajeev Jalota.

The unregulated introduction of new technologies has thrown up its own set of problems. “after the green revolution, farmers have started using hybrid seeds in the quest for greater yields. These are more expensive and require more inputs like fertilisers, pesticides and irrigation. They are also more vulnerable to pest attacks. It’s a vicious cycle where you shell out more in the hope that you will get more,” points out Suryapal Chavan, from the Kisan Sabha in Nandgaon.

The monsoon does not promise to wash away these problems. The tragedy of Gadwe and score like him shows that agriculture requires more than just rain.

1 July 1998, The Times of India, Mumbai

Alcoholism also a cause of farmers' suicide


Mumbai, January 22, 2007
In a shocking revelation, a group of journalism students on a study tour of Vidharba district, plagued by farmers’ suicides, have come to a conclusion that besides indebtedness, another precipitating factor for their tendency to commit suicide is alcoholism, which has affected even minors in a big way.

The students of the Department of Journalism and Communication of the University of Mumbai, recently visited some of these villages to understand the social and political structure of the place and their problems.

Mr Sanjay Ranade, veteran journalist and head of the department, explained that every village had a unique reason for farmers committing suicide. After going to Waifad, Dorli and Lonsavli, the most glaring problem of indebtedness could not be doubted. The other reasons were “alcohol” and “lack of responsibility.”

“The basic problem of the people there is alcohol. Even though it is banned in Wardha that boasts of adhering to the principles of great leaders like Gandhiji and Vinoba Bhave, the alcohol is made in every house-hold.

More than a 1000 house-holds are involved in distilling and fermenting illicit liquor here. In fact, we saw boys aged 12 and 14 moving around in a drunken state,” Sayyed Salman Abbas, a student told UNI here.

“They have become habituated to taking loans. One of the villagers who had recently committed suicide had a loan of Rs 1,25,000 on his head. He took further loans and when he couldn’t repay, committed suicide,” he said.

It is important to note that according to the State Government, of the 777 suicides in 2006, seven per cent were in Wardha district.

Overall, 93 per cent suicides were a result of indebtedness while 28 per cent were due to addiction. In fact, seven more suicides have already been recorded this year.

Indian Economy: Ready for High Gear ?

[Analysis] Old ways of policymaking unsuited for 21st century development

Ranjit Goswami (ranjit)

Twenty-five farmer suicides in five days in the small region of Vidarbha — approximately 24,000 square km (9,266 square miles) — in Maharashtra, one of the fastest-growing and richest States in India, made no big headlines in the Indian news dailies. When a news story is repeated day after day, its drawing power subsides (as can be seen from the global press coverage of Iraqi civilian deaths). At best, it will get a cursory mention on the umpteenth page of some local daily.

Vidarbha reflects the dilemma and pain of the “India Story,” as the nation continues to experience double-digit growth rates after decades of a “Hindu” rate of growth, a term applied to the laggard performance of the economy from independence in 1947 to the late 1990s.

This story is nothing new for Vidarbha or elsewhere in India or the developing world, as, increasingly, the Key Result Areas (KRAs) of policymakers are defined in terms of growth rates for the more laggardly developing areas of nations. One can sense the frenetic rush among certain sections of policymakers and analysts in India, as the sense sinks in of losing the race to China because of our leaders’ inaction over the last decade. During the license raj one had to wait years for permission to set up an industrial plant, which represented the height of inertia until it was dismantled in the 1990s. The same policymakers can now acquire farmland that has provided a livelihood for generations of marginal farmers, and, within weeks or months can establish industrial plants thereon, as they try to replicate the Special Economic Zone (SEZ) model that China has excelled in.

The corporate world has been familiar with the KRA acronym for years, which as with any measure has its limitations and possibly conflicting objectives; a surge of accounting scandals, like that of Arthur Andersen, the auditors of Enron, bred increasing skepticism about the obsession of the corporate world with short-term profits. From George W. Bush in Washington, D.C. to Manmohan Singh in New Delhi, all the talk is about the KRA called GDP growth, regardless of how it is achieved or whether the measure is indeed an appropriate one.

Don’t get me wrong: I am not antigrowth, anti-rich, anti-industrialization or anti-government. Let me admit the obvious — how easy it is to criticize and how much more difficult it is to deliver. After India followed the wrongheaded path of Nehru’s centrally-planned economic development model, broad swathes of the population suffered as some industries gained ground despite being uncompetitive, taking consumers and citizens in general for a ride, and the damage now has to be undone.

Policymakers now are attempting to move into high gear over bumpy and potholed Indian roads that can hardly support lower gears, not to mention that many villages lack passable roads at all. The competitive advantage we lost thanks to over 50 years of sluggishness can’t be undone by moving into top gear suddenly; a reaction likely to cause more dislocations than a simple inflationary speed-up of the economy. People wearing their safety belts and thus secured deep inside their vehicle can enjoy this ride in high gear by making a fast buck, with astronomical returns for the few and violence-prone social unrest for the rest of us.

Alas, however, the broad mass of Indians struggle for a foothold on that fast-moving economic engine. It exemplifies the traditional trekker or overburdened vehicles that ply the roads of rural India (as well as commercialized powerhouses like Mumbai) and the equally overburdened railways, with a passenger capacity of eight but accommodating no less than 28 — an accident-prone situation. The farmer suicides are a consistent example of this overburdening, the price we pay for trying to move into high gear in an economy that’s not ready for it.

The anarchic rough-and-tumble of corporatization dictates painful transitions for the broad majority of the people, who are not ready for these upheavals. Looking at some of the externalized and non-monetized fundamentals for rural dwellers (70 percent of Indians are rural) — literacy rate, infant mortality rate, the rural utility hookup rate (1/15th of the urban hookup rate) — India simply is not ready to move into high gear.

Does this mean that we Indians are going to miss another bus this early in the 21st century, failing to attract the FDI so badly needed for all-around growth? Capital is not like water, seeking a level playing field, but rather scales and aggravates the asymmetries in the local economic landscape. This is the challenge our world faces today, albeit with differing degrees of hardship, from the powerhouses of absentee ownership, like Wall Street, to socialist China to newly-opened up Vietnam.

It’s beginning to dawn on us that answers to difficult problems like this don’t come easily, as we sober up after bingeing on temporary rapid growth rates and race-to-the-bottom “free” marketeering, the fruits of neo-liberal globalization. One increasingly understands that the problems are global in nature and that traditional local solutions don’t apply globally.

The strategy of hunting higher and higher growth rates supposedly justifies itself with the mantra “a rising tide lifts all boats.” After many years, however, the results now make one circumspect about the validity of that hypothesis. The poverty and growth blog of the World Bank states that “Poverty will be more responsive to growth, the greater the equality of income distribution,” whereas growth by itself tends to be wealth-distribution neutral.

What’s surprising in the case of India, is that repeated calls over the last three decades by the federal government to attend to mass needs have not yielded any significant results. This is especially so in education from the basic and primary levels through college in the rural and less-developed regions, despite endless sloganeering to the effect that every village will get drinking water, electricity and basic healthcare. An article in the 1990s by Clive Crook, then Deputy Director of The Economist, showed that many economies in Asia, especially South Korea and India, started out in the 1970s with similar levels of income and literacy rates. Those economies that then invested heavily in basic education experienced economic growth, but Indian policymakers merely paid lip service in their anti-poverty and equal growth programs.

An examination of the results of these repeated calls for equality and poverty elimination will not show many achievements for recent decades. A look at land grabbing, however, since the inception of the SEZs since 2000, will show a nearly immediate cause-and-effect relationship, to the dismay of many. In Maharashtra State alone, through November 2006, each of the proposed 41 SEZs involved an area of between 2,500 to 10,000 hectares (6,178 to 24,711 acres). Taking the mean leads to an area of more than 250 square km (96.5 square miles). Referring back to the beginning figure for farmer suicides, lands would have to be taken from approximately 200,000 peasant households. Statisticians with a knowledge of average farm-family landholdings in India know this to be a super-optimistic picture, due to millions of landless share-croppers and laborers who depend on agriculture.

That government takes from us in return for servicing mass needs may be more or less true, depending on its policies and the level of corruption. The question is how equitably has the government performed this function, taking into account the differences in consumption, affordability, income, and wealth that support it?

Looking at the record of Indian growth, one is forced to ask policymakers what have they done for the thousands of villages without primary schools, healthcare facilities, utilities and roads in the fifty years since independence? How much has been gained from self-governance? But today, when the state can demand the end of traditional land tenure (claiming the land nature has given us), whether of tribals living where land records may not even exist or of farmers in relatively better-off places like Singur, one inevitably gets the feeling that the wrong people are being forced to sacrifice for the country’s overall growth.

Dragging in Tata’s Singur project controversy would be unfair. They want land for industrialization, and it’s the government’s responsibility to get that land in the right place at the right price and with equitable resettlement offered to those affected. It would also be unfair to ask Tata for employment in exchange for land, which would gloss over the fact that local development would generate other employment opportunities.

And though not directly linked, economic dislocation could result from these SEZ creations if domestic purchasing power can’t keep pace. Many believe that rapid growth rates and especially domestic consumption may not be sustainable in the near future at the levels of the last decade. There’s already tremendous excess capacity in manufacturing, be it in China or elsewhere. So a slowdown in the near future would affect these older existing capacities and also those capacities coming on line more severely. Playing China’s game from 25 years ago in India today may therefore be a costly affair.

The world has changed a lot in the last three decades and could change at an even greater rate in the future. In India now, however, the cost of making up for having missed the growth bus in the last century is increasingly being borne by those who, driving bullock carts, have never ridden any modern motor vehicle and today are having to hang on for dear life to a rapidly-moving economic engine without a secure seat.

For example, many reforms targeting growth rates of 8-10 percent of GDP are 21st century legislation, whereas India’s land acquisition policy dates back to 1894 and Victorian colonialism. Without denying the fact that land, especially agricultural land, was, is and will be needed for growth, a semblance of this policy should be in force now. The British formulated that policy ostensibly for Indian needs but suited more to British interests, and government today follows the same path again for “Indian” needs but suited more for elite interests.

MH: Farmers threaten to suicide

Saturday, January 20, 2007 (15:40:59)
MH: Farmers threaten to suicide

Palshi village: Hundreds of farmers in Maharashtra’s Amravati District on Friday threatened to commit suicide en-masse over the State Government’s failure to redress the problem of irregular power supply. Farmers of Amravati District’s Palshi village climbed atop a 150-feet high water tank to protest against irregular electricity supply. “We demand that we be provided uninterrupted electricity supply for 12 hours every day, and at a proper voltage. Currently we get electricity for just four to five hours everyday, at low voltage levels,” said Rajendra Marade, Deputy Chief of the Palshi Village Council. They descended after a few hours, but only after receiving assurances from power supply officials that the matter will be looked at an urgent basis.

“We have been assured by the power distribution company officials that they will solve our problems in seven days,” said Marade. The suicide threat was no gimmick, said Marade, adding that the step was taken as a last resort by the farmers who have nothing to harvest for want of enough electricity for irrigation.

The region has experienced three consecutive droughts and scores of farmers have committed suicide in the past year following crop failure and growing indebtedness. Country has officially admitted to the death of about 3,600 farmers over the last five years, in most of the cases huge debts being the cause of taking the extreme step.

Suicides in Maharashtra, especially in the Vidarbha region, crossed the 900 mark in 2006, despite the efforts of Centre to ease the financial burden of the farmers through Central and State Government grants.

The rich got richer, the poor took their lives

MUMBAI: If India vs Bharat clash is for real, then Maharashtra was unmistakably its epicentre in 2006. The year saw the industrially progressive Maharashtra regain its leadership position by bagging a slew of big-ticket investment commitments, including a record number of SEZs, whereas its rural underbelly kept bleeding.

When urban Maharashtra was chanting the makeover mantra, its rural hinterlands were in the throes of an agrarian crisis. And all this, notwithstanding the Union agriculture minister representing the state.

The worst-hit was the cotton belt of Vidarbha-Marathwada-Khandesh, which reported more than 1,500 suicides in 2006. In relatively prosperous western Maharashtra, sugar-cane growers fought a losing battle for better prices from sugar mills owned by political biggies. Onion farmers in north Maharashtra, too, had a similar tale to tell.

They took to killing themselves when messy policies led to crippling price fluctuations. Floods damaged cash crops like paddy, soybean, and jowar, while bird flu in north Maharashtra gave such a scare that the poultry industry ran up heavy losses. In 2006, rural Maharashtra was in ruins, virtually.

Numbers tell the morbid story. Half of the 1,100-plus farm suicides in 2006 in Vidarbha were reported after Prime Minister Manmohan Singh doled out a Rs 3,750-crore relief package.

In December 2005 when the Vilasrao Deshmukh government rolled out a Rs 1,075-crore relief module, more than 200 farmers had taken their lives. An alarmed Congress government in the state did almost everything that it could in the first half of 2006 to curb the suicide rate.

The state rescheduled crop loans, waived off interest on outstanding debt, banned illegal money-lending, encouraged diversified crop pattern and ancillary activities, and gave direct monetary assistance to widows of farmers. Towards the end of the year, the government even came up with an aid of Rs 1,500 per hectare for cotton growers.

The suicides sparked off politics in the state as well as in Delhi. The Congress subtly tried to blame it all on NCP head honcho and Union agriculture minister, but failed in its efforts, thanks to Congress president Sonia Gandhi’s intervention.

At the state level, the moribund Opposition, BJP-Shiv Sena failed to cash in on the crisis, and the Congress won handsomely in the recently-held polls to municipal councils and Assembly bye-polls also.

The relief measures did make some difference, but suicides continued unabated. In July, an alarmed prime minister flew into the killing fields of Vidarbha and announced the Centre’s package.

The Centre also announced interest waiver, moratorium on loan recovery, and allocation for long-term measures like completion of pending irrigation projects. Post-July, suicides started showing a slight decline, but the larger crisis, which apparently runs deeper than what the suicide numbers convey, just refuses to go away.

The only purple patch in Maharashtra’s farm story for 2006 has been a record cultivation of Bt cotton and projections of a bumper yield. The state hopes to better its record of 25 million quintals yield in 2004, thanks to Bt cotton and other related factors.

The chief minister hopes that the situation in 2007 would offer a different story. “Long-term measures like completion of irrigation projects, institutionalised agriculture credit at 6% rate of interest, and diversified crop pattern would show positive results,” Mr Deshmukh predicts. Sceptics, however, may have a word of caution on the CM’s optimism.