Report9 Special Article on Farmer Suicides
The country has seen a juggernaut of farmers’ suicides over the last decade accounting to about 1,55,000 suicides from 2004-2014. The National Crime Records Bureau’s latest figures cite that 5,650 farmers committed suicide in 2014 which saw an upward surge by comparison to that of 3,146 suicides in 2013.
The 2014 numbers accounted for about 4.3% of the total suicides in the country. The ‘Big 5’ states of Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh & Telangana, Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh & Chhattisgarh paint a grim picture as the worst States for such deaths with a total 5,216 farmers taking their lives in 2014.
The data clearly shows that the last eight years preceding 2013 were much worse. A great many, up to 1,46,553 farmers killed themselves in the 2004-2012 period. The year 2004 documented the highest number of deaths when 18,241 farmers committed suicide. The next four years following 2004 showed a marginal dip in numbers. There were 17,131 suicides in 2005; followed by 17,060 deaths in 2006; 16,632 suicides in 2007 and 16,196 deaths in 2008. However, there is little to cheer about as 2009 saw a rise in numbers again with 17,368 suicides. Figures that came after this waned negligibly with 2010 seeing 15,964 deaths, 2011 seeing 14,207 suicides and 2012 recording 13,754 farm deaths.
Among other major states, Kerala logged 1,081 farm suicides, which soared over its 2011 number of 830.
Uttar Pradesh saw 745 farm deaths, which went up by 100 over its 2011 statistic. Tamil Nadu saw a decline of 124 from the previous year to record 499. These figures appear even worse as the number of farmers shrank over the last few years.
Rajasthan, Uttarakhand, Bihar, Jharkhand, West Bengal and the North-Eastern states with the exception of Assam registered the lowest incidence of suicide deaths in 2014 accounting to less than 5 in each region. The numbers were relatively higher in 2012 with Assam logging 344 deaths, Bihar 68, Jharkhand 119, and the other North-Eastern states collectively recording 68.
In a nutshell, there is no major swerve or turnaround of the suicide trends in the country. Although, ‘zero’ declarations are anticipated to grow by the year. Chhattisgarh has done this three years in succession now since 2011: it has claimed 0, 4, and 0 farmer suicides. West Bengal also chronicled a zero in both 2012 and 2013. Similarly, Puducherry, the worst among union territories for farm suicides announced a zero figure in 2011, 2012 and 2013. It also declared a meager four in 2010. But its number was 154 in 2009. Clearly, this is a case of massaging the data.
The farmers have been rhapsodically killing themselves in good monsoon years as well as in years of drought. These farmers choose death over distress and what drives them to suicide is difficult to ascertain.
The NCRB data released in 2014 set forth more structured causes for farmers’ suicides. The breakdown of the causes shows that the majority of farm suicides did not relate to farming related issues. 20.1% were put down to family problems, 20.6% to bankruptcy, 13.2% to illness and 24.5% to “other causes.” All these factors are majorly driven by state policies. These figures highlight the need for investments in public health including mental health facilities.
Genetically modified cotton crops are another reason to blame, they are more expensive and higher yield under optimal conditions isn’t guaranteed. Lack of education, experience and unstable environmental factors often result in lower yields. This inability to make profits leads farmers to get loans for their basic needs and future crop production. They are forced to borrow from private lenders who charge exorbitant interest rates; they continue borrowing in hopes of a better season ahead. This can be dealt with by educating the farmers to make better choices.
Another set of significant data points to small landowners accounting for the overwhelming majority of people committing suicides on the farms. One report says that small farmers with up to two hectares accounted for 44.5 percent of the victims while marginal farmers with up to one hectare accounted to 27.9 percent. This category is noteworthy. At the first blush, these small acreages appear unfeasible. The intervention required is not higher minimum support prices but investments to boost farm productivity.
This necessitates higher outgoings for irrigation and watershed development. In addition, it entails an exit option for farmers in small freeholds of fewer than two hectares. This means creating real jobs for small and marginal farmers by giving them a good price for their land while investing in rural infrastructure.
This may be more pertinent to preventing farmer suicides than loan waivers and higher MSPs as tendered by Rahul Gandhi.
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