In 1995, India saw its first few cases of farmer suicides. Since then, according to a 2010 report by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), there has been a baseline of 15,000 farmers committing suicide every year since 2001. In total, the agency revealed that over a quarter of a million farmers (256,913) have killed themselves between 1995 to 2010 alone, which amounts to 45 farmers a day.
A more recent 2015 study about farmers’ suicide in India suggests that there has been an average of 12,000 suicides in the agricultural sector every year since 2013. As of 2018, the Bureau has not published any new statistics on the epidemic, but India is likely not on the path of solving the problem.
Farmers’ Suicide in India and its Causes
More than 8 percent of Indian farmers have landholdings below two hectares. These farmers have such a fragmented and small holding, and others deny them the benefits of mechanization, modern irrigation and other investment-based technological improvements, thus limiting productivity.
The overarching problem of water scarcity in India adds to this already weakened infrastructure. Estimates put India’s groundwater use at roughly one-quarter of the global usage, and needless to say, it is a quickly diminishing resource for those in rural areas especially.
Without access to water, farmers have relied on seasonal rains for their yield, the unpredictability of which can lead to either severe droughts or floods that prove to be a recipe for crop failure. Climate change is a problem that exacerbates these sorts of uncertainties.
Whatever income farmers manage to scrap is meager and depends on factors such as the prevailing market situation or the cost of greedy middlemen. As a result, profit is rare and this forces small and marginal farmers to take out expensive loans to fund the farming process, thus they get caught in debt traps.
These same small, two-hectare farmers made up 75 percent of the 5,650 suicides that the National Crime Records Bureau recorded during 2014; further data points out that in 2,474 suicides out of the studied 3,000 farmer suicides in 2015, the victims had unpaid loans from local banks. This information suggests that severe socioeconomic adversity, such as crop failure or debt-burdens, is a predominant cause of farmer suicide.
India’s agricultural sector accounts for almost 20 percent of the country’s GDP, making prompt attention to the tragedy of farmer suicide important not only from a humanitarian point of view but also an economic one.
Protecting farmers from spiraling down a pit of debt is, of course, a compelling starting point. A few policy solutions, according to Indian psychiatrists, Mahesh R. Gowda and T.S. Sathyanarayana Roa, in their journal “Prevention of Farmer Suicides,” are:
- Small and marginal farmers should pool their farmland to leverage the advantages associated with larger land holdings, such as the use of modern and mechanized farming techniques.
- Farm loans at soft interest rates should be available to farmers, and loan recovery procedures need to respect human rights; farmers should not deal with private money lenders.
- Fair prices for farm products should be mandatory and there should be a direct reach for farmers to markets in order to eliminate middlemen.
Farmer suicide is a complex problem in India, but the solutions are doable if the government correctly implements initiatives, such as the ones above. Lives are on the line, after all, and being quick to action is of the utmost importance.
– William Cozens