India is popularly known for its culture, history, religious diversity, military, nuclear powers, space programs, mountain warfare, and what more—high farmer suicide rates? It is definitely not a thing to be proud of but indeed an utter shame and disgust for Indians.
A country like India, with 70% of the population engaged in agriculture, has not yet lubricated better living conditions for its farmers. We thank our parents for getting us to bed every night without a hungry tummy but we never thank those farmers who spend day and night on the fields to make sure that people don’t run out of food. Our country and our people have been least concerned about the issues faced by them even when the number of farmers committing suicides is shooting up every year. This is a serious issue that urges us to address the weak agricultural structures and mechanisms of our country.
As per the annual report of 2012 conducted by the National Crimes Bureau of India (NCRB), 13,775 farmers committed suicide and 5 states accounted for 70% of the total number of suicides—Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka. Being the birthplace of the Green Revolution doesn’t cease the number of farmers’ suicide in Punjab. From 1995-2015, 4687 farmers committed suicide in Punjab with a district Mansa is being accountable to one-fourth of the total suicides in the state. Since 2013, an average of 12,000 farmers’ suicides was reported in the country, which makes 10% of the total number of suicides. With each year, the numbers augmented and during 2019, 610 farmers committed suicide during the first three months— January to March.
During the lockdown, the Marathwada District in Maharashtra reported 109 suicides of farmers. The president of Shetkari Sanghadana, Anil Ghanwat said that not even 10% of the product has been sold out, and if the situation worsens, then a coming couple of years will bear malice towards the marginal farmers.
Out of many reasons, climate change and unforeseen natural calamities are forcing these farmers to end their lives. Be it flood or drought, farmers are always to experience the wrath of nature. A study shows that climate change is the reason for 60,000 suicides that happened over the last three decades. Almost 80% of the Indian farmlands rely upon the monsoon due to poor irrigation facilities. An unexpected drought vents its spleen on these farmers and they eventually end up consuming the pesticides to kill themselves. On the other side, excessive rainfall destroys the farm crops, leaving them with nothing but wet soil. Last year, heavy post-monsoon rains caused serious damages to the farmland in various parts of Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh. Only in Maharashtra, the rain caused a crop loss of Rs 5,000 Crore.
The privatization and globalization of various firms are inversely affecting the agricultural sector of our country. With the government privatizing many firms that produce inputs for agriculture, the farmers are suffering to pay for the costly input products. Over the past three years, the prices of fertilizers and seeds have increased along with the price of urea. The present trend of Genetically Modified crops such as BT cotton has throttled the farmers as they are no less worth than gold. The farmers are forced to take huge loans to meet the cost of these crops. The new market policies are set up in a way that they only favor high scale farmers.
Very little profit is gained even after months of hard work in the fields. They spend their whole lives pondering the ways to pay the debts. The inflammation of prices of the input units and labor charges pushes the farmers to borrow huge loans from banks and private money lenders. In 2015, as per NCRB, 2474 out of the researched 3000 farmers who committed suicide had unpaid loans from banks. The popular perception of farmers only borrowing from private money lenders can now take a break as the previous study shows that only 9.8% of the farmers approached the private firms.
Nowadays, the salary demanded by the laborers has also increased with policies like MGNREGA and an increase in the basic income of individuals. Even though these are very effective policies, in one or another way they are counter-productive for the farmers.
Agriculture has always been a sector that has to be given more care and advancements. The government released an online portal, eNAM, to reduce corruption in Mandis (vegetable markets) and facilitate easy trade of products. Primarily, it eliminates the middlemen who are responsible for corruption in most cases and perishes inter-state trade. The small and marginal farmers are least benefited from eNAM as they don’t have internet and computer facilities. Moreover, most of them are not even educated to understand new technologies. Since our country has transportation challenges, a quick and efficient transport of products is not possible.
Even policies like loan waivers are not very productive. The government does not issue loan waivers during all major crises. It is evident with the recent severe locust attack in the North Indian states and 2019 floods in parts of Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra. Farmers cannot rely upon such a credit system. It is just a temporary concession and it does not benefit those who borrowed from private moneylenders. Sometimes these farmers take huge loans from banks in anticipation of waivers and eventually fall into debt. With this, banks start to disfavor loans to farmers.
The other flexible market policies are all urban consumer-driven and hence do not benefit the farmers. Our country has to focus more on the agriculture sector and start strengthening the mediocre policies. It should be made mandatory that every rural area should be provided with special courses and seminars on smart farming, new technologies in agriculture, and finance management. Every bank should be ready to clarify new government policies and loan related issues to every farmer so that they will be incentivized to approach only banks.
The government should consider providing basic insurance to farmers. Loan waivers are temporary adjustments and hence there should be permanent and sustainable methods that will help the farmers to swim across the difficult times. We should be ready to accept ideal policies like that of Switzerland which runs a non-profit organization to aid insurance to the farmers.
The Department of Agriculture and Cooperation should monitor the activities of small and marginal farmers to ensure them a good profit. Every year, these government bodies can also adopt lands of certain farmers and help to convert them into economically cultivable lands. Making certain agricultural zones can provide employment opportunities for many farmers and they can acknowledge new methods and technologies in farming. Every farmer’s family should have at least one person who should have a separate source of income, that is, other than farming. This will be really helpful for them to survive during off-seasons and periods of any natural calamities.
The government should improvise the current ‘kissan yojanas’ to improvise it. A reform in the agriculture sector is no Herculean task and it is really necessary to plummet the farmer suicide rate in the country.
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