It was the darkest day for the non descript village Chilgawhan of Mahagaon tehsil of Yavatmal district where on March 19, 1986, a debt ridden and nature beaten farmer had taken his young wife and four minor children to village Dattapur of Pavanar in Wardha district where he had bought a packet of rat killer Zinc Phosphate and mixed it with the food they cooked in the night and served it to his family members and he too ate it. The next morning the news of the mass suicide of the farmer and his five family members had rocked not only the district but also the entire State. Farmers across the State came together to hold a one day fast to from Mahagaon to commemorate the anniversary of the tragic end of a farmer and his five member family in the district’s Chilgawhan village of Mahagaon tehsil.
‘The main cause of the spate in farmers’ suicide was the anti farmer policy adopted by the Governments in succession and it could continue, if the they fail to change its Agriculture policy to sustain the nation’s grains and other food cultivating farmers.
Agricultural Indebtedness was listed as the primary reason for 55% of farmer suicides and more than 300,000 Indian farmers have committed suicide. The failing economics of such farms–agricultural households are most indebted–are increased by additional loans that families take to meet health issues, leaving them with diminished ability to invest in farming. However, indebtedness is a symptom and not the root cause of India’s farm crisis.
#Agricultural indebtedness of an average farm household borrowing has been “excessive and the blame lies on factors like #Stagnation in agriculture, Decreasing production and Marketing risks, Institutional vacuum and lack of alternative livelihood opportunities”. Nearly 70% of India’s 90 million agricultural households spend more than they earn on average each month, pushing them towards debt, which is now the primary reason in more than half of all suicides by farmers nationwide. The failing economics of such farms–agricultural households are most indebted–are highlighted by additional loans that families take to meet health issues, leaving them with diminished ability to invest in farming. Outstanding loans for health reasons doubled over a decade and loans for farm business fell by about half over the same period.
The onset of the Green Revolution, the usage of chemical fertilizers and pesticides increased exponentially along with genetically modified crops. This kind of farming also increased the costs. Chemical inputs and modified crops also deplete the quality of the soil and ruin its ecological balance. The only option left was to invest in more and more chemical fertilizers and higher and higher yielding varieties of crops. All this has resulted in a scenario where the expenses of farming have steadily increased whereas the incomes have declined. This led to increased borrowing and ultimately led to suicides.”
Attention should be focused on the development of an all-encompassing relief scheme after consulting farmers and farmer movements, and after considering the recommendations. Solutions come in the form of populist “special packages” that are reactionary rather than in the form of Preemptive. Solutions such as subsidies, loan waivers, crop insurance, and other welfare schemes have failed due to improper implementation. Knee-jerk reactions such as compensation after suicide could sometimes provide to be an incentive for suicide.
What is the solution? As a starter, farmers need to be protected from falling into the trap of the spiraling debt, which is the primary risk factor for suicide.
For this, farming must be protected from failure and made profitable. Possible policy efforts are listed below; these are not in any specific order, and priorities would depend on circumstances.
- Small and marginal farmers should be encouraged to pool their farmland to leverage the advantages associated with larger land holdings, such as the use of modern and mechanized farming techniques
- Water supply for irrigation must be insulated from the vagaries of nature by better water management systems; attention must particularly be paid to rainwater harvesting and resolution of interstate river water sharing disputes which is being solved.
- Farmers must necessarily be educated about modern farming techniques and practices
- Younger professionals must be encouraged to participate in farming activities
- Farm loans at soft interest rates need to be made available, and loan recovery procedures need to respect human rights; farmers should be discouraged from dealing with private money lenders
- Fair price for farm products must be ensured, and middlemen eliminated by creating a direct reach for the farmers to the market
- The government-administered MSP should take into consideration the existing realities to cover the cost of production and to insulate farmers from fluctuating market conditions.
- Financially wasteful expenditure arising from unnecessary and even harmful social practices must be discouraged; this includes matters ranging from alcohol use to dowry gifts and large wedding spending. Savings should be encouraged, and saving instruments should be devised for the farming population
- Training needs to be provided for secondary rural investments in dairy farming, poultry farming, animal husbandry, and other activities, with a clearly viable chain apparent from financing to marketing
- Storage and food processing units need to be established in rural areas
- Comprehensive but affordable insurance schemes should be made available, covering farmers and crops from problems at every stage of the crop cycle. There should be a quick, simple, and corruption-free approach to crop damage assessment with disbursement of relief directly into the claimant’s bank account
- Through SHG-assisted training, the women should not only venture into farming but areas like poultry farms, goat rearing, dairy business, clothing shops, sewing business and beauty parlours as well.
We hold food close to our heart. All important events in our country are centered around meals – weddings, festivals, going out with friends and even childhood memories. While we leave no opportunity to praise what we’re eating, we often forget to thank the person who ensured that we got our meal – the farmers.
We urge people to say a long due ‘Thank You’ to the Indian farmer. The farmer that sows the seed and nurtures it for months to guarantee it reaches us. The farmer that works all day in the simmering heat to take care of his farm.
Thanking Amol Sainwar, Parsharam Narawade, Yunus Khan and many other Farmers for their Inputs