Farmers suicides in India
Most affected Indian states
More than a quarter of a million farmers in India have been
driven to suicide in the past 15 years due to financial hardship leaving behind distraught families. Their innocent children are left
vulnerable, compromising their futures and putting them at risk of long term poverty.
Approximately one farmer commits suicide every 30 minutes according to the Centre of Human Rights and Justice.
Farmer suicides initially plagued the states of Maharashtra, Karnataka,
Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh (which was shaped out of MP in 2000) but slowly spread to other states of the country, including
those which have been agriculturally rich. The largest number of farmer suicides has been recorded in Maharashtra,
which is ironically, the home to the country’s Agriculture Minister, Sharad Pawar. Over 40,000 farmers have committed suicide in that state
alone since the mid-1990s. Providing relief packages and visit by top officials have not succeeded in yielding any results. The media, too,
has failed to create any major impact on the issue, like it did, for example in several terrorist attacks in Mumbai.
The 31st all India conference of the All India Kisan Sabha expresses its anguish
at the unprecedented wave of distress- induced suicides among farmers in different parts of India. More perhaps than any other social phenomenon, suicide
has come to represent in the public eye the depredations of liberalisation and imperialist-led globalisation in the countryside.
Figures compiled by the home ministry reveals that pushed to brink by mounting debts, more than one lakh of farmers and their
family members committed suicide between 1998 and 2003. These suicides have occurred mostly in prosperous regions of India, namely,
Andhra Pradesh, Punjab, Karnataka and Maharashtra. The farmers committing
suicides have come not only from land owning strata but from the fold of the landless too
The recent spate of farmers suicides that began in Andhra Pradesh (AP),
and caught the national attention in the aftermath of the stunning electoral verdict that unseated the BJP (Bharatiya Janata
Party) led government, has been baffling. Ever since the new government in Andhra Pradesh was sworn-in on May 14, 2004 more than 600 farmers have committed suicides.
This was the official death toll in the suicides register till June 2. The Indian Prime Minister, Mr. Manmohan Singh,
July 2006 sympathy visit to Maharstra meet the affected families of the farmers who killed themselves, has also failed to stop the death dance.
The Minister of Agriculture, Mr. Sharad Pawar, has announced a
“package” to stop farmers’ suicides. This is the same “package” that the Finance Minister, Mr. Chidambaram, has
offered in his budget over the past two years, which is to increase credit flow into rural areas by Rs. 1,70,000 crores.
At the failed WTO Ministerial at Cancun in September 2003, the suicide by the Korean farmer Lee Kyung-hae
amplified the devastation that the trade regime (in association with the World Bank/IMF and FAO/CGIAR) has wrought on the farming communities all
over the world. The message from Lee sacrifice was loud and clear. The growing discontent and frustration that prevails on the farm front, has been
amplified through the farmers suicides in India.
Debts are the primary cause of suicides. To increase credit flows without safeguarding farmers right to land and seed by
preventing seed monopolies and land alienation is to push farmers to suicide. To give more loans for high cost, high input agriculture
without shifting to low cost, low input agriculture like organic and ecological farming is a recipe to increase indebtedness and increase
farmers suicides and transfer farmers assets, their land to corporations, moneylenders and real estate speculators.
Monsanto’s Bt. Cotton
Monsanto’s Bt. Cotton has already caused havoc in Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, and Madhya Pradesh. A recent study by the
Vidharbha Jan Andolan Samiti has shown that during the June – December period in 2005, 212 farmers ended their lives in one region
of Maharashtra. Of these 182 were from the cotton heart land of India. 170 of the 182 suicides are of cotton growers who grew
Monsanto’s Bt. Cotton. Monsanto sells its GM cottonseed to Indian farmers at the same price as it sells in the U.S. The price of
transgenic seed (Rs. 1600 for 450 gms) has a “royalty” component of Rs. 1200, even though Monsanto does not have a patent for Bt.
Cotton in India. In contrast, local seeds are sold for Rs. 550 a kg. Farmers’ suicides in Vidharbha overlap with regions where Monsanto
sold its GM seeds. For the farmers of Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra Bt. Cotton has emerged as a killer. The Andhra Pradesh Government
had filed a case before the Monopoly and Trade Practices Commission in Delhi against Mahyco Monsanto Biotech (India) Ltd (MMBIL),
challenging the “revenue model” adopted by the multinational for sourcing its transgenic Bollgard cottonseed technology to Indian
Terming the company’s decision to collect Rs. 1250 as royalty on each packet of cottonseeds
sold in the state as a fit case to punish it under the MRTP Act, the State Government argued
that Andhra farmers were forced to pay through the nose. The Director General, Investigation and Registration, the investigative
arm of MRTP, has charged Monsanto of charging exorbitant royalties of Rs. 1,200when the cost of production of seed is only Rs. 300.
On a petition from the All India Biodynamic and Organic Farming
Association in Bombay High Court, Tata Institute of Social Sciences was asked
by the Bombay High Court to look into and submit a report. The Institute for an in-depth study selected a representative sample of 36
suicides, though information was collected for all the cases of suicides. Certain important facts have emerged from the report.
First, over the years the importance of agriculture has relatively declined. At present it accounts for
only 25 per cent of the GDP, though 75 per cent of the population living in rural areas is dependent on it for livelihood.
Second, 60 to 70 per cent of agricultural production comes from subsistence farmers.
Third, public investment in agriculture has been continuously declining for many years. A rough estimate
indicates that the extent of reduction is 60 per cent since 1985. The report has
referred to a research study by R. X. Desai, which says: under the guidance of
the IMF and the World Bank, successive Indian governments slashed their expenditure on rural development (including expenditure on agriculture, special
areas programme, irrigation and flood control, village industry, energy and
transport. The figures are for Centre and States combined) from 14.5 per cent
of GDP in 1985 to 5.9 per cent in 2000-01. Rural employment growth now is flat;
per capita food grains consumption has fallen drastically the situation is
calamitous. Were expenditure by the Centre and States on rural development to
have remained at the same percentage of GDP as in 1985-90, it would not have
been Rs 124,000 crores in 2000-01, but Rs 305,000 crores, or more than two and a
half times the actual amount. The declining public investment in agriculture has led to poor maintenance of
the existing irrigation works, not to speak of their extension. Consequently,
the dependence on rains continues. It needs to be noted that there is a marked
absence of irrigation facilities in the three areas of Maharashtra. The total
failure or insufficiency and unseasonal rains push the farmers into a deep crisis.
Fourth, in 1998 when the BJP-led coalition was in power at the Centre, India was
forced by the World Bank's structural adjustment policies to open up its doors
to global seeds vending corporations like Cargill, Monsanto, Syh genta, etc.
Consequently, the input economy underwent a big change. Farm-saved seeds gave
way to corporate seeds, which required relatively much more fertilizers, pesticides and irrigation.
Fifth, available data indicate a rapid decline in the fertility of land, which
had to be arrested by increasing amounts of fertilizers and water. Slashing the
subsidies on fertilizers, irrigation and electricity increased the costs of
production and forced the farmers to mobilize more resources. The policy of
liberalisation led to greater and greater space for private sector into the
production of fertilizers and pesticides. Obviously, they have become more and
more expensive. The report has found that most farmers do not have any access to
extension machinery of the government for securing sound information as to how
to tackle with the declining fertility of land and the menace of pests. Their
only source of advice remains the agents of fertilizer and pesticide companies, who have their own axe to grind.
Sixth, in the nineties especially after 1995, there was a sharp rise in the
costs of production because almost all inputs became more expensive. The increased costs of production were to be made up by a rise in crop yield that
required more fertilizers, pesticides and irrigation besides an appreciable rise
in the minimum support prices for various crops announced by the government. The
report underlines that no support price during the last ten years reflected the
rising costs of production. The average gap between the minimum support price
and cost of cultivation was 38 per cent for paddy, 48 per cent for Bajra, 32 per
cent for groundnut, 50 per cent for sunflower, 38 per cent for cotton, and 47 per cent for wheat.
Seventh, after the onset of new economic policies, job opportunities in
non-agricultural sectors declined. Textile mills in particular downed their
shutters. To quote the report, declining opportunities in non-farm employment
have further aggravated the crisis. It seems that in areas where suicides have
occurred, non-farm options are getting limited. There are also instances where
members of families have returned to land after losing work in urban areas or
have faced lack of opportunities in the non-farm sector outside the villages.
Thus, declining non-farm opportunities together with repeated crop failures and
indebtedness might have created acute conditions of distress for families in rural areas.
Last, frequent failures of crops, rising costs of production and the inability
to sell the crops at remunerative prices throw the farmers into the clutches of
moneylenders. While the farmers with a secure title over their landholdings are
in a position to secure some loans from institutional sources like banks and co-operative credit societies, these are not available to the landless
that lease in land. After they are entrapped in indebtedness, a number of them
realize that committing suicide was the only way out of destitution and humiliation. To quote the report: there has been a sharp increase in the
dependence on loans to enable cultivation. The tendency to take loans increased
in the nineties. The farmers took their first loan from banks (banks gave loan
only once, with a further loan possible only after the repayment of the outstanding loan). The later loans were from private parties to repay the bank
loan. Over 75 per cent of the farmers had loan commitments to non-formal
sources. The report has stressed, the opening up of Indian agriculture to multinational
corporations and the withdrawal of GOI (Government of India) has occurred
simultaneously. Moreover, the internal markets have become unstable due to
lowering of tariff barriers. Unfair terms of trade have made matters worse for
those who are engaged in and/or dependent on agriculture. It is obvious that the situation is serious.
National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) facts
In 2006, the state of Maharashtra , with 4,453 farmers’ suicides accounted for over a quarter of the all-India total of
17,060, according to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB). NCRB also stated that there were at least 16,196 farmers' suicides in India in
2008, bringing the total since 1997 to 199,132 . According to another study by the Bureau, while the number of farm
suicides increased since 2001, the number of farmers has fallen, as thousands abandoning agriculture in distress.
According to government data, over 5,000 farmers committed suicide in
2005-2009 in Maharashtra, while 1,313 cases reported by Andhra Pradesh between 2005 and 2007. In Karnataka the number stood at 1,003, since
2005-06 till August 2009. According to NCRB database number of suicides during 2005-2009 in Gujarat 387, Kerala 905, Punjab 75 and Tamil Nadu
26. In April 2009, the state of Chattisgarh reported 1,500 farmers committed suicide due to debt
and crop failure. At least 17,368 Indian farmers killed themselves in 2009, the worst figure for farm suicides in six
years, according to data of the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB).
Farmers movements are starting a campaign on
10th May 2006, the 149th Anniversary of our first freedom movement to address the real causes of farmers suicides such as Bt.
cotton and seed monopolies, the debt of corporate led agriculture, the unfair trade rules. Navdanya, a small farmers organic movement
along with other farm organisations such as Bhartiya Krishak Samaj, Karnataka Rajya Ryot Sangha, Vidharbha Organic Farmers Organisations
and others will be starting a Bija Yatra – Asha Yatra for farmers freedom from debt and suicides which will travel through Maharashtra,
Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka. The Yatra will also offer alternatives by distributing open pollinated varieties, which can be saved by
farmers, offering training on biodiversity and organic farming, which reduces costs and increases farm incomes.
In dealing with the issue of farmers’ suicides, the National Commission on
Farmers has recommended that the agrarian situation in every state be studied and that action be taken to introduce long-term sustainable livelihoods in
farmers’ distress “hotspots”. It has also recommended the establishment of farmers’ distress call centres.
The 31st all-India conference of the All India Kisan Sabha endorses the recommendations of the National Commission in this regard, and demands that:
1. An ex gratia payment be made to the families of suicides and that their debts and other liabilities be waived;
2. More institutional credit be provided to peasants, and at a 4 per cent rate of interest, as recommended by the National Commission on Farmers;
3. A comprehensive crop insurance scheme be implemented for all crops and to which all peasants have access;
4. The procurement system be strengthened and minimum support price (MSP) be introduced for all crops; and
5. Stern action be taken against suppliers of spurious inputs.
The 31st all-India Conference of the All India Kisan Sabha appeals to peasants
in different parts of our country to not take the extreme step of suicide. The personal or social alternative is not suicide, but unity of the working people
against liberalisation and imperialist-led globalisation, and the struggle for decent standards of living and a better society.
Vidarbha suicide spree continues
India boasts of having the largest number of billionaires in the world, it is 125 in the Human Development Index.
It also is home to largest number of farmers' suicides in the world. Over the last 10 years, nearly 150,000 farmers have committed suicides.