UPSC Notes: Farmer Suicides In India

Agriculture is the primary sector in India. India is predominantly an agrarian economy with close to 70% of the population depending on agriculture for livelihood directly or indirectly. Despite the fast growth of the secondary and tertiary sectors in India, a vast majority of the people depend on agriculture for their livelihood. The Green Revolution has made India self-sufficient in food grain production for daily consumption. Today, more and more farmers are also taking up modern methods and tools for farming. So, is everything hunky-dory in Indian agriculture? The answer is no. Every year, more than 12000 farmers (data since the year 2013) commit suicide in India. Farmers’ suicides seem to be commonplace in India. 10% of all suicides in India are farmers suicides. In this article, we talk about some of the causes of farmer suicides in India and also the way ahead.

Farmers’ suicides – Basic facts

  • Seven states in the country account for 87.5% of the farming sector suicides. They are Maharashtra, Telangana, Karnataka, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh. Maharashtra shows the highest figures out of these states.
  • Suicides are not restricted to marginal farmers. Even small farmers are committing suicides.
  • Even the state of Punjab, which benefited maximum from the Green Revolution, has its share of farmer suicides. From 1995 to 2015, 4687 farmers were reported to commit suicide from Punjab with one district Mansa reporting 1334 suicides.
  • In 2012, Maharashtra alone accounted for 25% of the farmer suicides in the country.

Causes of farmers suiciding in India

  • Rise in input costs – there has been an overall increase in agricultural input costs.
    • Cost of seeds and chemicals like fertilisers and pesticides.
    • Cost of agricultural equipment – agricultural equipment like tractors, pumps, etc. add to the surging cost of inputs.
    • Labour costs – hiring animals and labourers are also getting increasingly expensive, adding to the burden. Schemes like MGNREGA and the increase in the minimum basic income has been counter-productive for agriculture.
  • Loan distress – as per the National Crime Records Bureau, 2474 out of the researched 3000 farmer suicides in 2015 had unpaid loans from banks. Interestingly, contrary to popular perception, only 9.8% of the loans were from money-lenders. This could imply that muscle-power and harassment by money-lenders could not be a major driving force. The data from the Bureau also shows a strong linkage between farmer suicides and indebtedness. While Maharashtra and Karnataka had the highest number of farmer suicides, these two states also had a high rate of suicides for indebtedness.
  • Lack of direct market integration – despite innovative government schemes like e-National Agricultural Market (eNAM), removing or minimising intermediaries in this sector is proving to be more difficult than easy.
  • Lack of awareness – while there are schemes and policies aimed at helping farmers, a lack of awareness pushed by the literacy and digital divide in India, is proving to be an obstacle in improving a lot of farmers, especially marginal and small ones. They are unaware of the schemes, or do not know how to avail of the benefits offered to them by the government, and thus suffer.
  • Water crisis – a look at the figures for suicides also reveal that there is a concentration of suicides in the water-deficient regions like Maharashtra and Karnataka. Failing monsoons only add to the voes of the farmers. Interstate water disputes also cause unnecessary distress on the farmers. Water shortage has led to a failure to meet the production demands.
  • Climate change – climate change is also affecting farmers and agriculture. Uncertain monsoon systems, flash floods, etc. have led to crop losses. Deferred monsoon also cause production shortfalls regularly.
  • India’s economic policies – India’s economic policies are generally urban consumer-driven as reflected in the exigency to impose price controls in case of price rise (like bringing produce under the Essential Commodities List) and withdrawal once the price is under control. Such policies limit the profit margins and mar the farmers’ chances of breaking the debt cycle.
  • Loan waivers – loan waivers are populist measures undertaken by the government as an appeasement policy to secure certain votes. Rather than loan waiver, the government should focus on reinvestment and restructuring measures to improve the primary sector.

Farmer suicides – the way forward

  • Reducing the reliance on agriculture on nature. Using effective water management techniques. The government should focus on preventing crop failure.
  • Making institutional finance available to every farmer, particularly the poor farmers. Reducing red tape in this regard, effective monitoring to ensure that the poor farmer actually gets the loan and is not a front while the real beneficiary might be a bigger landowner.
  • Effective and timely counselling should be given to farmers on economic methods of cultivation.
  • Technological advancements in agriculture should be made available to poor farmers as well.
  • The government should also try to pool lands of small farmers and convert them into bigger chunks of economically cultivable land.
  • Small farmers should be advised on alternate sources of income and given training for the same.
  • Provision of relief should enable farmers’ families to sustain a livelihood rather than as just a relief. In certain cases in Andhra Pradesh, a few farmers committed suicide just so their families could get the relief packages.

There is no single sure-shot method to reduce the burden on our farmers. The government, in consultation with various stakeholders, should come up with effective and long-term measures to reduce farmer indebtedness, improve crop yield, manage water resources efficiently and make alternate income sources to farmers.

Farmers suicides is an important topic for the IAS exam. This comes under economy, agriculture, social issues, mental health, and is indeed a multidisciplinary subject. Students must read on the topic regularly and read about the various government schemes in this sector. This is also a possible topic for the essay paper.

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