In this blogpost, Vernita Jain, Student, National Law Institute University, Bhopal writes about the reasons as to why farmers are committing suicide in India and what steps is the government taking to deal with the increasing number of suicides.
SUICIDE A SOCIAL PHENOMENON
‘Suicide’, the term suggest killing of oneself voluntary. When a person faces a situation from which he is unable to get out or cope with, the easiest way one finds to run away from such situation is- suicide.
In a study by Patel et al., it was demonstrated that Suicide in India is a totally different phenomenon from what it is in high-income countries (HICs). Every year, India experiences a number of suicides. The number of suicide in rural areas is almost double those in urban areas, whereas in HICs there is little difference.
In India, the statistics show that there is a constant increase in the number of suicide rates, and the states that account for largest number of suicide are, Maharashtra, MP, Chattisgarh and Karnataka. These five states together accounted for about 90 percent of total farmer suicides.
The problem of farmer suicides has assumed a serious proportion. According to the National Crime Record Bureau (NCRB), 10%of the total suicide rates in India are suicides by farmers.
The Lancet study notes: “Most public attention on suicide in India is focused on suicide in farmers”.
The policy of liberalisation in the Indian economy in the year 1991 led to an “agrarian crisis” and an increase in farmers’ suicides. This policy by the government resulted in the opening of markets was the major cause of ‘agrarian crises’. The number of policies that are introduced by the government was thought to be beneficial for the agriculture, and it certainly changed the face of Indian Agriculture, but such advancement resulted in the increase in the number of Deaths among the farmers. The policy of 1991 has led to changes in aggregate level institutions and public investments.
The changes, brought by the government policy of 1991, increased the cost of inputs, whereas, the price that one gets after production have decreased to a large extent or become far more volatile. The producers with small and marginal landholders, who cultivate cash crops such as coffee and cotton, have been particularly hard hit by these changes.
Vijoo Krishnan of All India Kisan Sabha blames the high input costs of cultivation and falling output costs for the increasing number of suicides. A large number of farmers produce at a loss every year. Farming is becoming risky day by day due to the poor irrigation facility and decreasing subsidies.
Advancement in cotton Culture
Cotton cultivation requires relatively large capital expenditure, and it is widely argued that these costs have increased dramatically since the liberalization of the economy.
- The production of cotton requires large quantities of pesticides. Under the policy of 1991, the government reduced the subsidies in these pesticides which in turn resulted in increasing the price of such.
- The money to be spent on the irrigation for cotton production is to be a farmers own investment.
- Due to restrictions put in place by multinational companies, seeds need to be bought every year.
In many cases, cotton cultivators must borrow money to pay for these capital outlays, and this is particularly true for marginal farmers with very few resources.
The reason for the losses by cotton production was the increase in the cost of input. However, in the case of the coffee plantation, the reason for the loss was the decrease in the price paid. This is blamed on the purchasing power of multinational companies who continued to sell the end product at a high price.
Debt makes marginal farmers extremely vulnerable to disruptions such as illness or crop failure as a result of extreme weather or pests. Farmers, when unable to earn money or fulfil the basic requirements of their family, take money from local landlord and moneylenders which result in them getting into the debt traps. When these farmers are unable to return such money, they have no option other than to surrender their land to the big sharks with no means of livelihood left for them.
In the state of Maharashtra, 87% of the families of dead farmers cited indebtedness as an important reason for their difficulties that resulted in the suicide of their relatives.Some observers have suggested that the introduction of genetically modified varieties of crops since liberalization has considerably worsened the situation: the cultivation of such crops is “ecologically vulnerable since it is based on a monoculture of introduced varieties and on non-sustainable practices of chemically intensive farming”.
SUICIDE RATES IN DIFFERENT STATES
This research concentrates on states that have some of the highest suicide rates in the country–such as Andhra Pradesh, Kerala, Karnataka and Maharashtra. Thus, when taken as a whole, this body of research suggests that variations in suicide rates can be explained by the characteristics of the rural political economy.
In a study by Economic and Political Weekly, The vast majority of accounts of farmers’ suicides focus on one of a few relatively small areas of India: the Vidharbha region in eastern Maharashtra, the plains of Karnataka and the Telangana region of northern Andhra Pradesh, where farmers’ incomes depend on cotton cultivation; and Wayanad district and neighbouring areas in Kerala, where coffee is the major cash crop.
SUICIDE AND REACTIONS TO IT
Premshankar Meena, a small farmer, killed himself. He didn’t do it because he was addicted to drugs. In July, when asked if the “lack of support to poor and small farmers by way of greater inputs and better support price for their produce” was the main reason for rising suicides? Radha Mohan Singh, said: “According to NCRB [National Crime Records Bureau], causes of suicides include family problems, illness, drug abuse/addiction, love affairs, barrenness/impotency, etc…” Meena’s family rejected the reasons that agriculture minister, gave for Meena’s suicide. According to them, Meena killed himself because he couldn’t see his damaged crops.
Due to many such cases and the increase in the number of suicides, All India Kisan Sabha organised a protest, which was joined by the farmers of many states Kerala, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Telangana, Maharashtra, Haryana, Punjab, West Bengal, besides Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh.
The growing concerns regarding the suicide farmers have forced Mr. Dvendra Fadnavis, to launch an integrated scheme to ensure economic sustenance for small and marginal farmers Fadnavis said, “The state has decided to include 25 lakh farmers in the value chain for all major crops.” This scheme by, Mr. Fadnavis, will be with the collaboration of 40 companies that have assured to make investments in agriculture sectors in Maharashtra.
A new comprehensive policy centred on investment partnership between state government and private sector on one hand and enhancing the irrigation potential on the other is being simultaneously undertaken to enhance the livelihood of farmers.
To reduce the dependence of farmers on moneylenders, attention had to be paid on the regular income of the farmers.
A need to introduce alternative livelihood like diary, etc. was felt, and the government had started working on such schemes to ensure the survival of farmers even in the situations of crop failures.
The Government had constituted National Commission on Farmers in 2004 under the chairmanship of Dr. M.S. Swaminathan. The major objective of this commission was to devise methods for enhancing profitability, productivity and sustainability of the major farming. Based on the recommendations made by the Commission, the “National Policy for Farmers, 2007” has been formulated and approved by the Government of India. The objectives of this policy, among other things, is to improve the economic viability of farming by substantially improving the net income of farmers in addition to improving productivity, profitability, land, water and support services and provide appropriate price policy, risk management measures.
Some of the provisions there were introduced by the policy of 2007 were:
(a) Human Dimension: Focus to be on the economic well-being of the farmers than just on production and productivity and this is to be the principal determinant of Farmers policy.
(b) Definition of Farmers: Expanded to include all categories of persons engaged in the sector so that they can be extended the benefits of the Policy.
(c) Income Per Unit of Water: The concept of maximizing yield and income per unit of water would be adopted in all crop production programmes, stress on awareness and efficiency of water use.
(d) Use of Technology: the introduction of new technologies to enhance productivity per unit of land and water are needed.
(e) National Agricultural Biosecurity System: for coordinating the agriculture bio programme, a system relating to biosecurity system to be set up.
(f) Credit & Insurance: Credit counselling centres to be established where severely indebted farmers can be provided with a debt rescue package to help them out of debt trap. Need for both credit and insurance literacy in villages, Gyan Chaupals to help in the task.
(g) Minimum Support Price (MSP) mechanisms to be implemented effectively across the country so as to ensure remunerative prices for agricultural produce.
(h) Community Foodgrain Banks: To be promoted to help in the marketing of unutilized crops, etc.
The problem of farmer suicides has assumed a serious proportion. The toll is increasing year after year. There have been various schemes by the government for the benefit of farmers. Not only the government, but various celebrities like Nana Patekar, have come out and have pledged to help the farmers in drought-affected areas, but still there is not much decrease in the toll of farmers death. So the question here arises is that What should be done to protect farmers?.
There is a need to bring certain changes in the methods of the government, and their policies. Rather than spending afterwards on relief package to deal with farmer suicides, it will be better to take preventive measures to control this crisis. The preventive measures should be addressed on both social and economic fronts. In this connection, the importance of financial literacy, education, counselling, and medical services cannot be over-emphasised for addressing social causes. However, economic causes leading to erosion in farmers income need to be taken up with a sense of urgency. Farmers income is exposed to both production and market risks.
According to Dr. Vikram Patel, a professor at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, he thinks that suicide should be considered as a public health issue. He thinks to treat suicide as a public health issue it would help the government to take steps for breaking a cycle of desperation that a large number of Indian farmers face.
In order to decrease the situation of indebtedness among the farmers, it is necessary that, keep a close watch on level and trends of indebtedness of farmers.
It is very important to take care of the production risk that might take place due to crop failure. This could be done with the help of Agricultural Insurance Company with crop damage estimates at the block or sub-block levels. Needless to say, estimates at the individual farm level are imperative to help the affected.
There is an absence of any mechanism to address market risk. Therefore, there is a need to bring changes in the market reforms, so that the deals between farmers and the buyers are fair.
As pointed out earlier the main cause of farmer suicides was indebtedness. Hence, we need to keep a close watch on level and trends of indebtedness of farmers.
As farmer suicides is a matter of grave concern for a fast developing country and a challenge to the well-planned existing financial infrastructure, and the responsibility for this action lies on the shoulders of village officials like local Revenue. They should be entrusted with the responsibility to enquire about the financial health of all the farmers. They would not only be responsible for enquiries but, also for the counselling of distressed farmers and help them with any bank proceedings, in case they find them in any debt trap.
 Mishra S. Farmers’ Suicide in Maharashtra. Econ Pol Wkly. 2006;41:1538–1545.
 Mishra S, Risks, Farmers’ Suicides and Agrarian Crisis in India. Indira Gandhi Institute of Development Research. Mumbai: Working Paper; 2007. Is There A Way Out?