Millennium Post

Farmers dying due to increasing debts

The condition of farmers in India is akin to endangered bird species. Increasingly under threat and fighting on a day to day basis for their very survival. The exploitation of land  for monetary gain has been going on since the advent of commercialised agriculture.  What is perhaps also not new is the spate of farmer suicides across the country which continue to make headlines. The suicides have aroused considerable attention in a country like India, where around 70 per cent of the population subsists on agriculture. Even states like Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Punjab, Bihar, and Andhra Pradesh have been affected with the distressing echoes of farmer suicides. Given this context, the central and state government’s  silence over farmer suicides has drawn the wrath of farmer’s families.

The National Crime Records Bureau’s (NCRB) data puts Maharashtra on top in terms of number of farmer suicides. In analysing the causal factors of farmer suicides we often ignore a hidden factor. The silent culprit responsible for farmer suicides is climate change. The economic impact of climate change on India is expected to be significant. Its decreasing agricultural production and water shortage are just two major areas of concern. Alarmingly, India may stand to lose 1.9 per cent of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) by 2050 due to climate change. Warming temperatures are expected to lead to decreasing yields of wheat and rice in the future. Rice in the eastern sections of the country might be more significantly impacted. With more than 60 per cent of India’ crops being rain-fed, the country’s food supply is highly vulnerable to potential changes in monsoonal rainfall patterns.

An increase in monsoon rainfall pattern has also been observed. This might be due to increased moisture in the atmosphere and warmer sea surface temperature in the Indian Ocean. According to meteorological trends, monsoon rainfall is supposed to increase further despite the monsoon circulation potentially decreasing.During 2009-drought impacted a large portion of the country in 2009. In some areas, monsoonal rainfall was the lowest in four decades. Compounding the woes of farmers in 2013, Maharashtra suffered its worst drought in more than four decades.According to the latest NCRB estimates, the total number of farmer suicides in India between 1995 and 2015 has been above 3 lakhs.Every eighth farmer in the country commits suicide; cumulatively the number of farmers who have committed suicide since 1995 is a rather disturbing figure. 

“Two years ago my husband cultivated cotton.  He was in debt to a tune of 1 lakh Rupees and did not know how to pay it back to the bank.  The pesticide could not control the pest attack and neither could we repay the loan.  He came to the field and drank pesticide. He died of poisoning.,” says Vimala Devi from Vidarbha, Maharashtra. Vimala Devi’s story is not unusual in our country where worsening agrarian distress has driven hapless thousands of farmers to suicide. Today states government are dragging their feet on what can be done to help the state of farmers. Making matters worse the issue of farmer suicides inevitably becomes co-opted by petty local politicians who exploit the issue for political gain. Meanwhile farmer suicides across India continue as anxious families of farmers wait for a solution.

State governments must act in a time-bound manner to provide relief to families of deceased farmers. They must also try to devise a sustainable mode of agriculture and try and support agro-ecological agriculture. The government must curb the nefarious activities of private moneylenders and make low interest available through public banks and microfinance institutions.  

A recent study has said that water scarcity is already an issue in India. It is expected to worsen as a result of climate change and increasing water demand resulting from population growth, increasing urbanisation, economic growth and agriculture. This is especially true in central India.

When the new economic reform policy was adopted after 1991, farmers were told abruptly that they will face competition from agricultural markets across the world and they must tighten their belt by adopting new agricutural technologies en masse`. This was easier said than done. Inevitably over the next two decades farmers were unable to compete with cheap agri-produce from foreign markets and got ground to dust. Their profits declined and their debts kept increasing. 

The farmers became trapped in a vicious cycle and had to buy hybrid cotton seeds every year due to unfavourable agricultural policies. As a result farmers have become dependent on corporations for seeds. The reason is that most of farmers no longer have access to organically grown seeds in large parts of the country.Agrarian crisis, crop failure, bank loans, land acquisition, and myopic government policies are reasons for farmers’ suicides but the most important factor out of all these is climate change.  The present government must try and conduct awareness campaigns across the country so as to mitigate the adverse effects of climate change.
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