Farmer suicide rate higher in fertile regions: Studies
Farmers in lush, irrigated regions have less ability to cope with a shock event -- it could be lack of access to credit, a dip in prices, failure of irrigation or a natural calamity.india Updated: Mar 17, 2018 21:00 IST
Farmers in lush, irrigated regions are more prone to killing themselves than those who till the land in more arid climes with fewer resources, according to the surprising conclusion of two new studies commissioned by the agriculture ministry.
The reason is that the former have less ability to cope with a shock event -- it could be lack of access to credit, a dip in prices, failure of irrigation or a natural calamity.
AV Manjunatha, who co-authored the studies with colleague KB Ramappa of the Bangalore-based Institute for Social and Economic Change, told HT that he found it “remarkable” that farmers’ suicide rates were far less in “resource-poor regions” – academic jargon for less fertile, arid and drought-prone areas – when compared with “resource-rich regions”, or those with sufficient access to surface water and irrigation.
“Why else should Mandya in Karnataka, which has a good irrigation network, become a suicide hub?” he asked.
The answer is that in such areas, sudden shock events can turn deadly as farmers haven’t learnt to develop alternatives.
Primary data collected from 107 victim households covering four major districts, namely Mysuru, Mandya, Haveri and Belagavi, for instance, bear this out. “The intensity of suicides in Mandya was extremely high at 62 suicides per lakh hectares of net sown area and 49 farmer suicides per lakh hectare of gross sown area,” Manjunatha said.
Manjunatha and Ramappa studied the economic decisions and cropping choices of the victims. They say policy solutions can thwart farmers’ suicides. Along with an all-India study, they also researched suicides specifically in Karnataka. The state’s Mandya district is well-irrigated, supplied by the Cauvery river, but farmers have been prone to committing suicide.
India’s high farmer suicide rate – the 11,458 cases in 2016, a number cited in a government reply to a question in the Rajya Sabha, are supposed to be the lowest in decades – is mostly driven by small and marginal cultivators living just above the poverty line, the two new studies show. The largest share of suicides – 76% -- is accounted for by small and marginal farmers, mostly below or just above the poverty line. They are followed by medium-sized land-holding cultivators at 16% and big farmers at 8%.
Although indebtedness is the leading cause of farmers’ distress, extreme weather is a bigger reason for these suicides, according to the all-India study.
The research by Manjunatha and Ramappa was based on 528 “victim households” in 46 districts. These include the five hotspot states -- Maharashtra, Telangana, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Karnataka -- which together account for 90% of all suicides.
Farmers who grow mostly a single crop, often in the monsoon-dependent kharif season, are most vulnerable. In other words, farmers who don’t diversify, have little to fall back on. Such farmers also rarely have allied activities, such as livestock or dairy farming.
About 31% of victim households said suicides in their families could have been prevented if there was a loan waiver. The study suggests crop diversification – growing more than one crop simultaneously – apart from accompanying livestock activities to prevent precipitating factors. An alert system that allows farmers to report distress and negotiate loan restructuring should also be explored as policy solutions, Manjunatha said.
Debt-traps are an obvious reason for farmer suicides. “However, a closer look reveals that failure of rain, lack of irrigation facilities and attack of pests and diseases together is a much bigger cause,” the study states.
A 2017 study by Tamma Carleton, a PhD student at the University of California, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences suggested that climate change could be playing a much bigger role in farmer suicides in India. Her findings, although criticized by many experts, attributed more than 59,000 suicides since 1980 to rising temperatures.