While reading on the internet about farmer suicides I came across P. Sainath’s very thought provocative article; which has enough information to understand the situation which forces Bharatiya farmers towards suicide. I’ve consolidated the statistics and probable reasons of farmer’s suicide (massacre) from this article on Counter Punch and from other resources like NCRB.
*************** The Largest Wave of Suicides in History: P. SAINATH ********************
The Spate of Suicide in Bharatiya Farmers:
- Number of farmers who have committed suicide 1997 and 2007 – is staggering 182,936.
- Nearly 2/3 suicides have occurred in 5 states (out of 28 states & seven union territories).
- Maharashtra, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Chattisgarh
- These states account for just about 1/3 of the country’s population but 2/3 of farmers’ suicides.
- Farm suicides have also been rising in some other states of the country very rapidly example Odisa.
- As many as 8 million people quit farming between the two censuses of 1991 and 2001.
- Also the large-scale survey shows that given a chance almost 40% farmers are willing to quit farming permanently.
- These suicide data is official and tends to be huge underestimate, suicide data in India is collated by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB).
- Women farmers are not normally accepted as farmers. They do the bulk of work in agriculture – but are just “farmers’ wives.” This classification enables governments to exclude countless women farmer suicides. Which will be recorded as suicide deaths – but not as “farmers’ suicides.”
- The spate of farm suicides accompanies India’s embrace of the brave new world of neo-liberalism.
- The farmer suicide risen in every five years:
- 1997 – 2001, 78,737 (or 15,747 a year on average).
- 2002 – 2006, 87,567 (or 17,513 a year on average).
- 2001 onwards, one farmer took his or her life every 30 minutes on average.
- The 2007 figures (detailed below) place that year, too, in the higher trend.
- What do the farm suicides have in common?
- Those who have taken their lives were deep in debt.
- Peasant households in debt doubled in the first decade of the neoliberal “economic reforms,” from 26 per cent of farm households to 48.6 per cent.
- In Andhra Pradesh 82 per cent of all farm households were in debt by 2001-02.
- Those who killed themselves were overwhelmingly cash crop farmers – growers of cotton, coffee, sugarcane, groundnut, pepper, vanilla. (Suicides are fewer among food crop farmers – that is, growers of rice, wheat, maize, pulses.)
- The brave new world philosophy mandated countless millions of Third World farmers forced to move from food crop cultivation to cash crop (the mantra of “export-led growth”).
- For millions of subsistence farmers in India, this meant:
- Much higher cultivation costs,
- Far greater loans,
- Much higher debt, and
- Locked into the volatility of global commodity prices.
- Global commodities sector dominated by a handful of multinational corporations, with vested interest in profit-making only.
- The extent to which the switch to cash crops impacts on the farmer can be seen in this:
- Cost Rs. 8,000 ($165 today) roughly to grow an acre of paddy in Kerala.
- Whereas for vanilla, the cost per acre was (in 2003-04) almost Rs.150,000
- Seed Cost – an exploitation of the needy by Govt and Corporate?
- Giant seed companies displaced cheap hybrids and far cheaper and hardier traditional varieties with their own products.
- A cotton farmer in Monsanto’s net would be paying far more for seed than he or she ever dreamed they would. Local varieties and hybrids were squeezed out with enthusiastic state support. (Why did state support such thing? Who were the scholars consulted before this decision? Aren’t the agricultural experts also accountable along with the agriculture ministry?)
- In 1991, a kilogram of local seed cost Rs.7 – 9 in today’s worst affected region of Vidarbha, Maharashtra.
- By 2003, Rs.350 for a bag with 450 grams of hybrid seed. i.e. Rs.780/Kg
- By 2004, Monsanto’s partners in India marketed a bag of 450 grams of Bt cotton seed for between Rs.1,650 and Rs.1,800 ($33 to $36). This price brought down dramatically overnight due to strong governmental intervention in Andhra Pradesh, where the government changed after the 2004 elections. The price fell to around Rs.900 ($18) – still many times higher than 1991 or even 2003.
- Inequality among the “Emerging Tiger” nations of the developing world.
- The predatory commercialization of the countryside devastated all other aspects of life for peasant farmer and landless workers.
- Health costs, for instance, skyrocketed.
- Many thousands of youngsters dropped out of both school and college to work on their parents’ farms (including many on scholarships).
- The average monthly per capita expenditure of the Indian farm household was just Rs.503 (ten dollars) by early this decade. Of that, 60 per cent roughly spent on food and another 18 per cent on fuel, clothing and footwear. (Just imagine a young IT pro spends Rs. 500 for movie on weekend, of course pro earns it, so has right to spend it. But the situation can boom-rang anytime)
- Farmers are number one food buyers?
- Millions of small and marginal Indian farmers are net purchasers of food grain.
- They cannot produce enough to feed their families and have to work on the fields of others and elsewhere to meet the gap.
- Having to buy some of the grain they need on the market, they are profoundly affected by hikes in food prices, as has happened since 1991, and particularly sharply this year. (We have seen “Dal – Rs.110/Kg, Sugar Rs.40/KG” which made a decent (Rs. 15k/month) salary earner think twice before buying)
- Hunger among those who produce food is a very real thing.
- Additionally, fact is that the “per capita net availability” of food grain has fallen dramatically among Indians since the “reforms” began: from 510 grams per Indian per day in 1991, to 422 grams by 2005. (That’s not a drop of 88 grams. It’s a fall of 88 multiplied by 365 and then by one billion Indians. That is 3,21,20,000 tons of food grain shortage compared to 1991)
- As Prof. Utsa Patnaik, India’s top economist on agriculture, has been constantly pointing out, the average poor family has about 100 kg less today than it did just ten years ago
- The élite eat like it’s going out of style.
- For many, the shift from food crop to cash crop makes it worse. At the end of the day, you can still eat your paddy. It’s tough, digesting cotton.
- Even the food crop sector is coming steadily under corporate price-rigging control.
- Speculation in the futures markets pushed up grain prices across the globe earlier this year. (Why do we need commodities trading at the hands of people who don’t have any idea about it? In the name of free trade we are killing traditional farmers. Our farm produce must have given higher preference, but unfortunately it did not happen and we see the results now 200000+ farmer suicides.)
- Cash Crunch – All is for Urban Dwellers:
- The neoliberal model that pushed growth through one kind of consumption also meant re-directing huge amounts of money away from rural credit to fuel the lifestyles of the aspiring elites of the cities (and countryside, too).
- Thousands of rural bank branches shut down during the 15 years from 1993-2007.
- Even as incomes of the farmers crashed, so did the price they got for their cash crops, thanks to obscene subsidies to corporate and rich farmers in the West, from the U.S. and EU.
- Their battle over cotton subsidies alone (worth billions of dollars) destroyed cotton farmers not merely in India but in African nations such as Burkina Faso, Benin, Mali, and Chad.
- India kept reducing investment in agriculture (standard neoliberal procedure).
- Life is being made more and more impossible for small farmers.
- As costs rose, credit dried up. Debt went out of control. Subsidies destroyed their prices. Starving agriculture of investment (worth billions of dollars each year) smashed the countryside.
- India even cut most of the few, pathetic life supports she had for her farmers.
- The mess was complete and from the late-’90s, the suicides began to occur at what then seemed a brisk rate.
- In fact, India’s agrarian crisis can be summed up in five words (call it Ag Crisis 101): the drive toward corporate farming.
- The route (in five words): predatory commercialization of the countryside. The result: The biggest displacement in our history.
- Corporate Farming on the horizon:
- Corporations do not as yet have direct control of Indian farming land and do not carry out day-to-day operations directly.
- But they have sewn up every other sector, inputs, outlets, marketing, prices.
- And now are heading for control of water as well (which states in India are busy privatizing in one guise or another).
- किसानोने भर दी इंडिया में जान, इंडियाने लेली किसानो कि जान:
- The largest number of farm suicides is in the state of Maharashtra.
- Home to the Mumbai Stock Exchange and with its capital Mumbai being home to 21 of India’s 51 dollar billionaires and over a fourth of the country’s 100K dollar millionaires.
- Mumbai shot to global attention when terrorists massacred 180 people in the city in a grisly strike in November.
- In the state of which Mumbai is capital, there have been 40,666 farmers’ suicides since 1995, with very little media attention.
- Mumbai have 21 billionaires and a 25k millionaire just to make sure media does not notice the massacre (by neo-liberal policies and development) of 40,666 farmers since 1995.
- Farmers’ suicides in Maharashtra:
- It crossed the 4,000-mark in 2007, for the third time in four years, according to the NCRB, that is 25.48% of total national suicides.
- As many as 4,238 farmers took their lives in the state in 2007, the latest for which data are available, accounting for a fourth of all the 16,632 farmers’ suicides in the country.
- That national total represents a slight fall from the 17,060 farm suicides of 2006. But the broad trends of the past decade seem unshaken.
- Farm suicides in the country since 1997 – 2007 are total 182,936.
|Year||MH Total||Bharat Total|
Source: FinalReport_SFM_IGIDR_26Jan06 : report is accepted by Govt of Maharashtra, NCRB data.
- The five worst affected states:
- Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh and Chattisgarh
- These states account for two-thirds of all farmers’ suicides in India. Together, they saw 11,026 in 2007.
- Maharashtra alone accounted for over 38 per cent (4,238).
- Andhra Pradesh saw a decline of 810 suicides against its 2006 total (1,797).
- Karnataka saw a rise of 415 over the same period (2,135).
- Madhya Pradesh posted a decline of 112 (1,375).
- Chattisgarh’s farm suicides mean an increase of 110 over 2006 (1,593).
- Specific factors in these states nourish the problem.
- These are zones of highly diversified,
- Commercialized agriculture where cash crops dominate.
- Water stress has been a common feature, and gets worse with the use of technologies such as Bt seed that demand huge amounts of water.
- High external inputs and input costs are also common, as also the use of chemicals and pesticides.
In the end I’ll say this mindless deregulation lit a lot of pyres and dug a lot of graves. So what are we doing? Are we ready to support initiatives to discuss these issues in public and support others who are fighting for farmer’s cause? Aren’t we indebted by the farmers for the food produced by them?
“कृषितोनास्ति दुर्भिक्षं” – Dearth of farming is famine.
Welcome your thoughts and comments….