Farmers' suicides

Farmers' suicides

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The study titled Farmers Suicide: Facts and Possible Policy Interventions (2006) prepared by Meeta and Rajiv Lochan, (Yashwantrao Chavan Academy of Development Administration), revisits some of the families which two earlier reports (Mishra and Dandekar et al) had also visited and criticises them for not doing a good job of compiling the victims' circumstances meticulously. The authors believe that many reports in the past have exaggerated the connection between debt and suicides whereas in reality a lot of other reasons, including harsh environment, a variety of other reasons and absence of basic health services, also play an equally important role. According to the same study: 

• The suicide epidemic is said to have its epicentre in Yavatmal district of Maharastra. According to the State Crime Records Bureau, it reported 640, 819, 832, 787 and 786 suicides respectively for the years 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003 and 2004. 

• Most of the victims of this epidemic were men, mostly in the age group 30 to 50, married and educated, with more social responsibilities, especially in the form of unmarried daughters and or sisters. There were two things that were common among the victims of suicide. One, a feeling of hopelessness: in being unable to resolve problems and dilemmas of personal life; and in the face of an inability to find funds for various activities or repay loans. Two, the absence of any person, group or institution to whom to turn to in order to seek reliable advice: whether for agricultural operations or for seeking funds or for handling private and personal issues.

• People complained about lack of information on various government sponsored schemes. There was little knowledge about institutional mechanisms like the minimum support price (MSP) that would affect marketing, technical knowledge was low and there were no reliable sources from where such knowledge and advice could be accessed. Most farmers were not informed about crop insurance.

• Most of them who committed suicide were Hindus and not Muslims or Christians. This is because Hindu religion allowed certain circumstances for altruistic suicide, whereas the latter two religions frowned upon suicides.

• Chronic alcoholism and drug abuse were found among rural population.

• Loan from a rapacious relative rather than a bank or moneylender was often the cause of economic distress for the victim.

The 10 point suggestions are:

1. Enhance the physical interaction between government functionaries and village society by insisting on more tours, night halts and gram sabhas by officers at all levels of the administration.

2. Actively monitor local society, especially farmers, for signs of social, economic and psychological distress and if possible provide social, psychological or spiritual counseling.

3. Implement with rigour the various provisions that already exist to safeguard the interests of the farmer and farm workers for example, the existing money lending act, minimum wage act etc.

4. Increase the efficiency of agriculture extension activities.

5. Increase the efficiency of various services that are delivered by the government in the name of people's welfare at the moment.

6. Make available trained and salaried individuals to serve the rural population. Immediate succour is needed.

7. For the long-term change, it is important to improve the condition of school education and provide appropriate vocational education at the village and taluka level so as to make people understand the complexities of present day production and marketing techniques.

8. Counsel the media to stop highlighting suicide since the fact of highlighting suicide itself adds fuel to the suicide fire as it were.

9. Instead of ex gratia payment being made to families of those who commit suicide, provide employment to a member of the family or help in setting up a small business.

10. Provide direct cash subsidies to actual cultivators.

According to Farmers’ Suicide in India: Agrarian Crisis, Path of Development and Politics in Karnataka by Muzaffar Assadi,
please click here to access:

• The beginning of agrarian crisis requires being located much earlier to the beginning of suicide, which goes back to the 1980s when the terms of trade were going against agriculture. To oppose State policies, farmers’ movements were led by Shetkari Sangathana in Maharashtra, Vyavasayigal Sangam in Tamil Nadu, and Rajya Raitha Sangh in Karnataka.

• Karnataka has no history of farmers committing suicide even during the situation of acute agrarian crisis. Even the unorganised farmers would resort to other tactics such as throwing the agricultural commodities on the roads, burning their crops, etc. Andhra became the harbinger for such a trend in Karnataka. Suicide in Karnataka was first reported in the northern parts of Karnataka or close to the border areas of Andhra Pradesh.

• The beginning of the suicides can be traced back to the year 1998, when two farmers in Bidar, who were involved in cultivating Tur Dal, a market-oriented agricultural crop committed suicide. In the initial two years, farmer suicides were largely concentrated in the drought-prone districts in north Karnataka, or confined to economically backward, drought-prone regions such as Gulbarga and Bidar. However, after 2000 , the phenomenon shifted to relatively advanced agricultural regions, particularly Mandya, Hassan, Shimoga, Davanagere, Koppal and even Chickmagalur Kodagu and it also covered ground water region (Belgaum), assured rain fall region (Haveri), Sugar Cane and Cauvery Irrigation Belt (Mandya). However, in the coastal belt, the number of suicides reported was less.

• During 1999-2001, it was estimated that 110 farmers committed suicide in Karnataka. According to one estimate, 3,000 farmers committed suicide in Karnataka between 1998 and 2006. According to the report prepared by the Crime Branch of Karnataka, the number of suicide under the heading “farming and agricultural activity” comes to 15,804 between 1998 and 2002. Between 1996 and 2002, 12,889 male farmers committed suicide followed by females (2841). The total number of farmers who committed suicide from 1 April, 2003 to 1 January, 2007 comes to 1193.

• Debt burden of the farmers who committed suicide was not uniform. It varied between Rs.5000 to Rs.50000. Many of them had borrowed loan on short-term basis.

• The most striking aspect of the crisis, however, is the fact that large number of farmers who committed suicide largely came from the age group between 25 and 35 years.

• During the first few years of this millennium Karnataka saw a deceleration, due to the negative growth in agriculture. This is apparent from the following facts: the average real GDP rate in different sectors between the period 1995-96 and 2002-03 was 5.86; however, for agriculture it was 1.87 per cent, industry 5.93 per cent, service sector 8.18 percent.

• In Karnataka, the large number of farmers who committed suicide came from the OBCs, though there are also cases of farmers committing suicide, hailing from dominant castes such as Lingayats and Vokkaligas.

• The World Bank dictated terms have gone against the interest of the farmers. This is apparent when Karnataka government for example, went for World Bank loan, which granted Economic Restructuring loan in 2001. This loan came along with a condition that government should withdraw from the power sector as regulator and distributor of power. The free power given to the agriculture was withdrawn and it increased the power tariff drastically.

• Karnataka government was unable to checkmate the growth of money lenders. It failed to make the cooperative movement a success one. In Karnataka although there are 32,382 Cooperative Societies at the village level, almost 40 cent of them are running under loss, nearly twenty cent of them are either defunct or liquidated.

• The Karnataka government is one of the first governments to allow the field trials of Bt Cotton.

• In 2002, 143 talukas were declared drought affected. In 2003, 159 talukas out of 176 talukas in the state, were declared as drought affected. Drought brought down areas under sowing thus affecting production.

• The first debate on farmers' suicide tries to locate the suicide as part of multiple crises. The crises are ecological, economic, and social, each inter-linked with the other. The ecological crisis is the result of intense use of hybrid seeds, chemical fertilisers and pesticides, causing the erosion of soil fertility and increasing crop-susceptibility to pests and diseases. Heavy indebtedness led to the economic crisis. The second debate attempts to locate the crisis or the suicide to the negative growth of agrarian economy in the recent past as argued by Vandana Shiva. She comes closer to the Marxist critique particularly the arguments of Utsa Patnaik wherein the latter locates the reasons in the liberalisation/ neocolonialism or imperialist globalisation. The third debate attempts to locate the reasons for the suicide in adapting the World Bank model of agriculture or what is called McKinsey Model of development that created spaces for industry-driven agriculture which ultimately translated into agri-business development including Information technology. The fourth is the discourse, which attempts to locate the suicide exclusively to one phenomenon, that is, the increasing indebtedness or the debt trap. The final discourse, which came from the state, attempts to locate the reasons in multiple issues, such as the incessant floods, manipulation of prices by traders, supply of spurious pesticides and seeds, decline in prices of agricultural produce, increase in the cost of agricultural inputs, successive drought in recent years, and of course, the neglect of farmers by the previous state government.

Please click here to access the article entitled Farmers’ Suicides in India: Magnitudes, Trends, and Spatial Patterns, 1997-2012 by K Nagaraj, P Sainath, R Rukmani and R Gopinath, Review of Agrarian Studies


According to Nagaraj K (2008): Farmers’ Suicides in India, Magnitudes, Trends and Spatial Patterns, please click here to access :


• Farm suicides happened in Maharashtra, Karnataka, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh, Punjab and Madhya Pradesh including Chattisgarh

• During the ten-year period spanning 1997 to 2006 as many as 166,304 farmers committed suicide in India. If one considers the 12 year period from 1995 to 2006 the figure is close to 200,000. 

• Going by the official data, on average nearly 16,000 farmers committed suicide every year over the last decade or so.  It is also clear that every seventh suicide in the country was a farm suicide. 

• The year 1998 show a sharp increase in the number of farm suicides – an 18 percent jump from the previous year; and the number remained more or less steady at around 16,000 suicides per year over the next three years upto 2001.

• The average number of farm suicides per year in the five-year span 2002-2006, at 17,513 is substantially higher than the average (of 15,747 per year) for the previous five-year span. Farm suicides have increased at annual compound growth rate of around 2.5 per cent per annum over the period 1997-2006.

• Suicides in general are also largely concentrated among males, but the degree of concentration here is significantly lower than in the case of farm suicides: male suicides in the general population account for nearly 62 percent of all suicides in the country.


According to Hebber, Dr. Ritambhara (2007): ‘Human Security and the Case of Farmers’ Suicides in India: An Exploration’, Centre for Development Studies, School of Social Sciences, TISS, Paper presented in a panel on Rethinking Development in a Conference on ‘Mainstreaming Human Security- an Asian Perspective’ (October 3-4, 2007) organised by Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok

• The problem of farmers’ suicides has been seen from the framework of human security. This phenomenon is related to the collapse of basic economic and social support structures in rural India.

• The officials while explaining the suicidal deaths have underplayed the structural changes due to green revolution, globalisation and liberalization. The protective measures and mechanisms required to be provided to the ordinary farmers were overlooked. There has been overemphasis on psychological factors while explaining the suicides.

• Farmers committed suicides mainly from Maharastra, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh. Such regions are dry regions where agriculture is mainly rain fed. Farmers were growing cash crops in such regions such as: cotton (particularly in Maharashtra), sunflower, groundnut, and sugarcane (especially in Karnataka).

• Rising cost of production made the farmers to borrow at exorbitant rates from informal sources.

• When the All India Biodynamic and Organic Farming Association wrote to the Mumbai High Court expressing its concern over farmers’ suicides in Jalna, a district in Maharashtra, the Court asked TISS to conduct a survey study. Based on the survey, the Court asked the Maharastra government to consider the issue seriously. The TISS report identified the untenable cost of agricultural production and indebtedness as the key reasons for suicides. The IGIDR report, on the other hand, did not implicate the government or its policies for the suicides; instead it sought a greater role for government intervention through rural development programmes to expand non-farm activity among farmers.

• A special relief package was announced by the Maharastra government in December, 2005 for six districts of Amravati, Akola, Buldhana, Yavatmal, Washim and Wardha.

• Pesticide and fertiliser companies have been extending credit to farmers in Karnataka and in Maharashtra, which adds to their debt burden.

• Poor health conditions, family disputes over property, domestic problems, and heavy social burden of marrying daughters coupled with alcoholism have pushed farmers towards committing suicides, according the committee report headed by GK Veeresh.

• Farmers’ movement headed by Shetkari Shangathana was quite strong during the 1980s in Maharastra.



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