WHY FARMERS COMMIT SUICIDES?
A study by Jonathan Kennedy and Lawrence King, published in the Lancet journal Globalization and Health (2014) has found that liberalization of the agricultural sector in the early-1990s is responsible for the agrarian crisis and, therefore, farmers with certain socio-economic characteristics-cash crops cultivators, with marginal landholdings, and debts-are particularly at risk of committing suicide. In short, the study detects that differences in the structure of agricultural production explain a large amount of inter-state variation in Indian suicide levels, thereby, contradicting the conclusion of a previous Lancet study by Vikram Patel and colleagues (2012). (Please see the links below).
The study entitled 'The political economy of farmers' suicides in India: indebted cash-crop farmers with marginal landholdings explain state-level variation in suicide rates' (2014) has used National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) figures for getting the dependent variable i.e. age standardized male/ female suicide mortality rate (suicides per lakh per year), and then adjusted these numbers for under- or over-reporting by using the estimates given by Vikram Patel et al (2012). The present study then goes on to test the hypothesis that suicide rates will be higher in states where there are more marginal farmers, where more cash crops are grown, and where there are more indebted farmers. The existing body of literature suggests that inter-state variation in suicide rates can, at least to some extent, be explained by the characteristics of the rural political economy, which was somehow undermined by Patel et al (2012), says the two experts from University of Cambridge and University College London (2014).
When all variables in the regression equation are included, one could observe a significant positive relationship between the percentage of marginal farmers, cash crop production, and indebted farmers, and suicide rates*. These characteristics account for almost 75 percent of inter-state variation in suicide rates. The Lancet study (2014) finds that if the state were able to reduce the proportion of marginal farmers, cash crops, or indebted farmers by one percent, the suicide rates (per lakh per year) would be reduced by 0.437, 0.518 and 0.549 respectively, when all other variables are held constant.
The key findings of the study (among others) are:
a. The proportion of marginal farmers is only associated with higher suicide rates in states where farmers are subject to the vulnerability of cash crop cultivation and indebtedness. West Bengal is an outlier, with a relatively high proportion of marginal farmers but a suicide rate only just above the mean;
b. There is a clear association between the proportion of cash crops and suicide rate. The two anomalies are Gujarat and Rajasthan, which have high levels of cash crops and low suicide rates. Both these states have low proportion of marginal farmers;
c. There is a clear association between the proportion of indebted farmers and suicide rates. With a high proportion of indebted farmers but low suicide rate, Punjab is an outlier;
d. Proportion of marginal farmers, cash crops, and indebted farmers are better predictors of suicide rates than inequality; and
e. There is a significant and positive relationship between the percentage of marginal farmers and suicide rates, but only when the study controls for either or both cash crop production and indebted farmers. The study concludes that even if land redistribution is not possible in the real world, state interventions to stabilize the price of cash crops and relieve indebted farmers may be effective at reducing suicide rates in the country.
The study by Kennedy and King has collected data on the proportion of marginal farmers i.e. farming households with a landholding of less than one hectare from the Ministry of Agriculture's quinquennial "Agricultural Census of India" in 2000-01 and 2005-06. The data on the proportion of land that is used to cultivate "non-food crops" is collected from the Ministry of Agriculture's annual "Land Use Statistics at a Glance". Data on farmers' indebtedness has been collected from the National Sample Survey Organization's "Situation Assessment Survey of Farmers" (2003).
It is worth mentioning that a survey done recently by Centre for the Study of Developing Societies has found that a large chunk of respondents (farmers) reported domestic problems (41 percent) as most important reason for suicide cases followed by credit/ loan (35 percent) and crop failure (14 percent). Approximately, one in every seven respondent (15 percent) in the same survey said they have heard about suicides in their area.
* The proportion of marginal farmers is not significantly related to suicide rates but the sign of the coefficient is positive (model 1). The significance of the regression model that includes the proportion of cash crops is just above the five percent level, indicating that there is a positive relationship with suicide rates (model 2). The proportion of indebted farmers displays a significant positive relationship with suicide rates (model 3). The percentage of marginal farmers becomes significant when either cash crops or indebted farmers in the regression equation is added (models 4 and 5). When marginal farmers, cash crops, and indebted farmers in the same regression equation are included, all three variables are significant (model 6).
The political economy of farmers'suicides in India: indebted cash-crop farmers with marginal landholdings explain state-level variation in suicide rates by Jonathan Kennedy and Lawrence King, published in the Lancet journal Globalization and Health 2014, 10:16 (please click here to download)
'State of Indian Farmers: A Report', done by Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS), Delhi for Bharat Krishak Samaj
Patel V, Ramasundarahettige C, Vijayakumar L, Thakur JS, Gajalakshmi V, Gururaj G, Suraweera W, Jha P: Suicide mortality in India: a nationally representative survey. Lancet 2012, 379:2343-2351 (please click here to download)
Gujarat has lowest farmer suicide rate: UK study -Prasun Sonwalkar, The Hindustan Times, 19 April, 2014
New evidence of suicide epidemic among India's ‘marginalized' farmers -Manash Pratim Gohain, The Times of India, 17 April, 2014
Farmer suicides, crop failure plague Vidarbha -Kunal Purohit, The Hindustan Times, 13 April, 2014
The run of rains in Indian agriculture, Live Mint, 31 March, 2014
Farmers of Andhra Pradesh release their agenda for 2014 elections-M Suchitra, Down to Earth, 28 March, 2014
Maharashtra farmer battles for life, The Hindu, 25 March, 2014
Agriculture turning into nightmare for small farmers-Nagesh Kini, MoneyLife.in, 25 March, 2014
Save the farmer, DNA, 20 March, 2014
Unseasonsal rain, hailstorms trigger farmers' suicides in Maharashtra, 18 dead -Chittaranjan Tembhekar, The Times of India, 19 March, 2014
Madhya Pradesh: Many farmers commit suicide over crop failure -Anup Dutta, India Today, 14 March, 2014
Farmers demand guaranteed income -Jyotika Sood, Down to Earth, 6 March, 2014
Nationwide survey finds Indian farmers in bad shape -Vishwa Mohan, The Times of India, 12 March, 2014
Image Courtesy: Farmer Friendly Handbook For Gujarat, GoI