While reasons like indebtedness have been linked to farmer suicides in India, two new studies show why farmers from greener areas are more prone to taking their lives.
According to two new studies commissioned by the agriculture ministry, farmers from green, well-irrigated areas are more prone to taking their lives during an agriculture epidemic than those working in more arid climate and with fewer resources. As per reports, farmers working on fertile grounds have less ability to cope with a shock event, which could be due to lack of access to credit, a dip in prices, failure of irrigation or a natural calamity.
Authors of the study, AV Manjunatha and KB Ramappa of the Institute for Social and Economic Change in Bengaluru, told Indian media about their findings, which show that farmers’ suicide rates were far less in “resource-poor regions”, implying the ones less fertile, arid and drought-prone areas, when compared with “resource-rich regions”, or those with sufficient access to surface water and irrigation.
That’s one reason the authors pointed as to why Mandya in Karnataka, which has a good irrigation network, became a suicide hub. Mandya made news last year for a sudden increase in the number of farmer suicides, and some families even giving up farming following the crisis.
Not just Mandya, but other districts in Karnataka, notably Mysuru, Haveri and Belagavi, were also at top of the charts in farmer suicides. “The intensity of suicides in Mandya was extremely high at 62 suicides per 100,000 hectares of net sown area and 49 farmer suicides per 100,000 hectares of gross sown area,” Manjunatha said.
With water from the Cauvery river, Mandya has been a well-irrigated district but a water crisis in the Cauvery itself led to a hike in farmer suicides. Due to acute water shortage, caused by poor rainfall, farmer suicides have also been reported in Mahoba district of Bundelkhand, with 27 cases reported recently.
As per the studies by Manjunatha and Ramappa on economic decisions and cropping choices of the victims, policy decisions may prevent farmer suicides.
The 11,458 farmer suicide cases registered in India in 2016, are supposedly the lowest in decades the two studies show. The research also states that the suicides- 76% of them- were accounted by small and marginal cultivators living just above the poverty line. Medium-sized land-holding cultivators at 16% and big farmers at 8% comprised of the data on suicides
Other causes and concerns
As per the recent studies, which were conducted pan-India, extreme weather conditions were stated as the cause of the suicides. However, indebtedness has been the leading reason of farmers’ distress.
Villages in India see an informal loan granting system holding farmers to its clutches. With no formal institution or banking system in some instances, farmers are often pressured to agree to high interest rates and shorter return periods.
The research by Manjunatha and Ramappa was conducted in five hotspot states — Maharashtra, Telangana, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Karnataka, which together account for 90 % of all suicides. It was conducted across on 528 “victim households” in 46 districts.
About 31 % of victim households said suicides in their families could have been prevented if their loans had been waived. Creation of a system that allows farmers to report distress and negotiate loan restructuring should also be explored as policy solutions, Manjunatha said.
Debt-traps are an obvious reason for farmer suicides. “However, a closer look reveals that failure of rain, lack of irrigation facilities and attack of pests and diseases together is a much bigger cause,” the study states.
Sadly, there has been no data available 2016 onwards on number of farmer suicides due to farm debt. The National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) under the home ministry compiles and disseminates information on suicides in its publication titled Accidental Deaths and Suicides in India. The reports were last updated in 2015 with the website still not updated for years 2016 onwards.
There is also a need for farmers to diversify the crops they sow, as it gives them something to fall back on, in case either if their crop fails or a they go without a good harvest in one season. The study also fails to recognise that farmers get into debt traps due to low realisation of crop prices and failure to find buyers for their produce in time, as almost 40 pc of Indian farm output perishes at the farm itself, due to lack of transport and storage infrastructure and/or poor prices which make it more expensive for a farmer to transport goods to the market, than let it rot on the fields.