Monday, 30th October 2017

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Need to change

Sometimes improvements cannot inspire positive feelings. The 2016 data on farmer suicides that the government has released show that suicides among farmers has dropped by 21 per cent from 2015. Two facts destroy any hope that things might be getting better in the agricultural sector: one, that the actual figures are 8,007 in 2015 and 6,351 in 2016 (and that is still more than the 5,650 suicides in 2014), and two, suicides of farm labourers have increased by 10 per cent. Given that more farm labourers killed themselves in 2014, and that this figure dropped in 2015 to rise again in 2016, it may also suggest that all figures, farmers' suicides included, are just dips and rises in a steady condition of distress that no government since the 1990s has been able to address meaningfully. Which in itself is strange. Seventy per cent of India's population lives by some activity associated with agriculture.

  • Published 26.07.18
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Sometimes improvements cannot inspire positive feelings. The 2016 data on farmer suicides that the government has released show that suicides among farmers has dropped by 21 per cent from 2015. Two facts destroy any hope that things might be getting better in the agricultural sector: one, that the actual figures are 8,007 in 2015 and 6,351 in 2016 (and that is still more than the 5,650 suicides in 2014), and two, suicides of farm labourers have increased by 10 per cent. Given that more farm labourers killed themselves in 2014, and that this figure dropped in 2015 to rise again in 2016, it may also suggest that all figures, farmers' suicides included, are just dips and rises in a steady condition of distress that no government since the 1990s has been able to address meaningfully. Which in itself is strange. Seventy per cent of India's population lives by some activity associated with agriculture.

Before going into the reasons for the changing percentages of suicides, it should be noted that the two categories were differentiated as late as 2014. Why were they lumped together before this? Owning land and working on it for wages are surely very distinct states of being? As is the difference between being a big farmer and a small one. At the moment, the cause for the reduction in farmer suicides is being put down to a better monsoon. Farm labourers were not spared misery because they had no work for the first six months of the year. The National Crime Records Bureau analysis of causes of death for 2015 showed in January last year that farm labourers kill themselves for 'illness' and 'family reasons' as much as for indebtedness. Drug abuse and alcoholism are added to poverty and lack of employment as causes. Recent studies from the Punjab Agricultural University indicate that healthcare, education and social expenditure intensify the distress of farmhands. Just as high input costs and a persistent lack of coordination with markets exacerbate the misery caused by indebtedness among farmers, so a lack of work security and persistent poverty make farm labourers increasingly vulnerable. The tragedy of the two groups is linked. Loan waivers and transient increases in minimum support prices do not help in the long run. It is only now that the government is talking of income-centred policies instead of product-centred ones. What can a country that allows its food producers to kill themselves say in defence of its values?