Suicide Plague

The latest government figures available state that, in 2003, 17,107 farmers took their own lives across India. The trend is continuing; a local advocacy group has compiled unofficial figures for Vidarbha, a central cotton-growing area, calculating 767 suicides over the last 14 months.

“The suicides are an extreme manifestation of some deep-seated problems which are now plaguing our agriculture,” said M. S. Swaminathan, the geneticist who was the scientific leader of India’s Green Revolution 40 years ago and is now chairman of the National Commission on Farmers. “They are climatic. They are economic. They are social.”

American multinational companies have been condemned for spreading the use of expensive genetically modified seeds in Indian agriculture. Although these can offer new opportunities, they have also caused a sharp increase in farmers’ debt, as they cost almost double the amount of normal seeds. Moneylenders often charge exorbitant interest rates, plunging farmers into economic desperation and in some cases driving them to suicide.

Over the last 15 years economic reforms have enabled Indian agriculture to compete globally and have access to biotechnology, without giving the necessary importance to higher prices, bank loans, irrigation or insurance. The country’s overall economy is soaring, but agriculture remains weak, while being the source of livelihood for millions of people. The government is trying to respond to the current crisis by expanding rural credit and promising investment in rural infrastructure, but it is under pressure to do more.

Source: New York Times

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