The Centre has rushed a high-level team to probe a farm crisis in Maharashtra, where persistent dry conditions from this summer’s drought are said to have pushed up the number of suicides among farmers.
In a report to the agriculture ministry, the state has said that 204 farmers have committed suicide this year, deaths that are directly attributable to “agrarian causes”, such as financial losses from farming or crop failures.
Maharashtra’s 204 farm suicides are the highest for any state out of the 301 such suicides across the country so far this year.
The new BJP-led government headed by chief minister Devendra Fadnavis has sought a Rs 4,500 crore package to tackle a drought-related crisis. After undertaking a review recently, the Maharashtra government has declared about 20,000 villages drought-hit, which suggests that dry conditions have stretched well into winter and could hamper prospects of a good winter crop.
Maharashtra’s Vidarbha, a cotton-growing belt, and Marathwada region often make news for farmer suicides, but farm NGOs say the regions have seen a spike in suicides this year. The southwest monsoon this year, which runs from June to September, was 12% below normal, although in the initial months the deficit was higher. In Marathwada, the rains were 42% deficient.
Small farmers — those owning less than two hectares — often bear the worst brunt. They are highly challenged: they buy more food than they grow or sell, fetch lower-than-market prices and are suicide-prone because of debt traps.
Farmers typically depend on loans for critical inputs, such as diesel for irrigation, seeds and fertilizers. Smaller plots are more expensive to cultivate and small farmers have higher consumption patterns, according to economists.
Vidarbha Jan Andolan Samiti chief Kishore Tiwari said a widespread drought had deepened the crisis. He said a severe shortfall in the rains during the monsoon months had led to huge financial losses for cotton farmers, most of who were caught in debt.