Prerequisites And Reasons Of Farmer Suicide in India

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Introduction

India is an agrarian economy. The Economic survey of India, 2019 suggests that agriculture and related activities employ 42% of the population but only accounts for 14% of the Gross Domestic Product of the nation (Economic Survey of India, 2019) This discrepancy can be attributed to a variety of factors, viz., dependence on precipitation, lack of technological development in the field of agriculture, dependence of primitive forms of irrigation and cropping, etc. the consequence being low productivity in terms of quality and quantity, consumer and producer dissatisfaction and in extreme cases farmer suicides.

The present paper shall view all the causes of farmer suicide and analyse the role and extent of mental illness in this global phenomenon. Recommendations and road ahead shall also be discussed towards the end.

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Farmer suicide

Farmer suicide is a global phenomenon. National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) data suggests that a minimum of 2,70,940 farmers have committed suicides in India since 1995. The frequency of instances of farmer suicide are alarmingly high in other countries, namely France, the United States of America (US), Australia (“Farmer Suicide: A global phenomenon,” 2015)

Research by Mohanty (2013) posits that the nature of farmer suicide is ego-anomic, which is characterised by a mix of agitation, apathy of revery and action.

Characteristics

Based on an all India Study by AV Manjunathan & KB Ramappa commissioned by Department of Agriculture, cooperation and farmer welfare, Government of India, 2017 the following characteristics were observed in an ex post facto study done on families od farmers who committed suicide. (Manjunathan & Ramappa, 2017)

Socioeconomic Characteristic

  • Economic status. The research suggests that rates of suicides by farmers who possess Below Poverty Line (BPL) & Antodaya Anna Yojana (AAY) cards are significantly higher as compared to those Above Poverty Line (APL).
  • Gender. Statistics reveal that some states such as Telangana have high levelsof female farmer suicide rates at about 36%. Regional disparity exists wheren Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh have lower rates of female farmer suicide rates.
  • Social-status. One-fourth of the farmer suicides in 13 states are committed by SC (16%) and STs (9%). The rates are the highest for people belonging to the Other Backward Classes (OBCs) i.e. 46% and 29% for general category individuals.
  • Age. The authors on the basis of the data collected suggest that 70% of the farmers committed suicide were between the age group of 31-60 years. 13% were above 60 whereas 17% below 30.
  • Educational status. Education can be speculated as being a protective factor against suicide due to more awareness about the functioning of the system, importance of crop rotation and other sustainable agricultural practices. However, contrary to the expectation, research statistics suggest that 56% of the farmers who committed suicide had a matriculation or equivalent qualification.
  • Religion. 90% of the suicides are committed by Hindus, 2% Christians and 1.6% by Muslims. Rest 6% by people belonging to other religions. This can be attributed to the relative population from each communities. 79.8% of Indians are Hindus, 2.3% are Christians and 14.2% are Muslims (Census, 2011).
  • Family dynamics. 96% of the farmers were married. Mostly, belonging to nuclear families with an average family size of 4.3 members. Again, with a scope of regional disparity.

Characteristics of Operational holdings

  • Size of operational holdings. The average land holdings is 3.4 acres. However the large farmers who constitute only 7.3% of the total population of the farmers own 1607% of the land holdings. On the other extreme end are marginal farmers who constitute 49.8% of the farmer population own only 28.2% of the land holdings.
  • Source of irrigation. The crops are primarily irrigated using ground water and rains. Due to the climate change and over exploitation of ground water, the aquifers are running dry. Transitory spike in levels of poverty has been correlated with poor or lack of rainfall which increases suicide prevalence among male and decrease female suicides in farm and farm-based households (Hebous & Klonner, 2014).
  • Cropping pattern. Kharif crop cover 62% of the cultivated land whereas Rabi crops use 28% of the land holdings. The cultivation of such crops are contingent on the irrigation patterns and availability of water. Cereals constitutes 57.3% of the total cropped area. This is followed by commercial crops including, cotton, tobacco, sugarcane, coffee, constitute 22% and oilseeds 10%. Remaining 11% constitute the pulses, fodder, fruits and vegetable, etc.
  • Nature of credit. Research suggest that large, small and marginal farmers borrow relatively greater proportions of money from informal or non-institutional sources as compared to formal financial aids and sectors (Anneshi & Gowda. 2015; Macharia, 2015, Singh et al., 2014; Chikkara & Kodan, 2014).

Causes of Suicide

The causes of farmer suicide are multifactorial, repetitive, cumulative and progressive, which leads to creation of a vicious cycle of hopelessness, helplessness and worthlessness, which are influenced by social supper, coping repertoire and mental health of the individual in question (Behere & Behere, 2008).

The causes of suicide can be broadly categorised in terms of 3 factors:

1. Economic factors

o Indebtedness. Indebtedness is one of the most prevalent cause for farmer suicide ((Dandekar and Bhattacharya, 2017; Merriott, 2017, Suri, 2006) owing to (Shiva & Jalees, n.d):

  • i. Failure of institutional credits for small and marginal farmers.
  • ii. Withdrawal of government intervention from safety nets such as fair price shops (FPS), and the exclusion of poor and indebted from the food distribution system.
  • iii. Increasing cost of agriculture inputs like seeds, fertilizers, pesticides, etc.
  • iv. Reduced price of agriculture produces

Government Economic policy. Research by Patnaik and colleagues posits that the macro-economic policy changes favouring liberalisation, privatisation, globalisation, green revolution, etc.

  • i. Liberalisation. Several researchers suggest that a significant reduction in the completeness of Indian cotton was observed post opening of the markets to foreign goods and producers as part of the LPG (Liberalisation, privatisation and globalisation) reforms in the mid 1990s (Mitra & Shroff, 2011; Kennedy & King, 2014; Deshpande, 2002; Reddy & Mishra, 2009; Mishra, 2008)
  • ii. Green revolution focussed at achieving self-sufficiency in terms of production of grains, has had adverse impact on the quality of soil, availability and quality of water resources, thereby contributing to an overall reduced output in the longer run, thereby increasing instances of dissatisfaction and an overall increase in farmer suicide.

o Poverty, Rising costs of agricultural inputs and non-availability of non-farm income. The process of poverty pushing farmers towards suicide can also be the result of declining crop income and the non-availability of nonfarm income (Mishra , 2008, 2014). This can be pictorially represented as: Gender differences with greater prevalence of male farmer suicide could be attributed to the socially accepted norm of male farmers being responsible for the economic sustainability of the family (Mishra, 2014).

o Misdirection of government subsidies and funds. Issues such as hoarding by middlemen, corruption and red tape, lack of financial inclusion, lack of paper work for the purpose of establishing identity has led to a complex and mismanaged system of distribution of resources and subsidies.

Furthermore, policies such as minimum support price (MSP) sometimes also add to the misery of farmers for three reasons:

  • It forces farmers aiming at a stable income to produce only particular type of crops, thereby reducing their autonomy to produce crops they wish to and adapt practices such as cop rotation.
  • It may not cover the cost of production (Rao et. al, 2017)
  • It restricts the open market system to function independently and freely, thereby reducing the probability of the farmers to make larger profits for their yield.

2. Socio-political factors. Farmers in India experience different stresses as farmers elsewhere, due to illiteracy, the bonded labour system, large families, government corruption and debts from local moneylenders (Aggarwal, 37. Poverty, alcoholism, violence, patriarchy, caste systems and class divisions in the society are some more social factors that make the populations more vulnerable to suicides (Malone 31

3. Tangible (Physical factors)

  • Drought. 79.5% of the farmland in the Indian subcontinent is dependent on flooding during rainfall. Inadequate rainfall, leading to drought and therefore may lead to crop failure (Abid, 2013; Ghosh, 2013).
  • Weather and climate. Global warming is resulting in change of weather conditions at a very fast pace and unpredictable rainfall (Basha, 2018). It affects the farmers life cycle directly by means of impacting the crop quality, yield, etc.
  • Inadequate Storage Facilities. According to ASSOCHAM estimates, about 30-40% of the agricultural produce in the country is damaged or becomes unfit for consumption due to lack of cold storages (Basha, 2018). This creates an immediacy to sell the crop, which in turn forces the farmers to sell their produce at lower rates due to increase in supply and constant demand.
  • Type of crop and cropping pattern. Research by Hebous and Klonner (2014) reveals that a shift from subsistence to cash crops has been associated with a reduction in the rates of suicides in case of male farmers. No such relationship was associated in case of female farmers.
  • Genetically modified crops. Correlations have been found between the prevalence of farmer suicides and the use of Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) Cotton (Sengupta, 2006).
  • Studies have shown that crop failure (Mohanty, 2005; Parthasarathy & Shameem, 1998), investment failure (Vaidyanathan, 2006) also leads to farmer suicide.

4. Psychological factors.

One school of thought has suggested the primacy of an impaired mental health state, implying that the psychosocial needs of farmers have been neglected, and that caring community professionals need to address farmer distress.

  • Mental Illness. Another school of thought focuses on the need of early psychiatric intervention as a primary preventive measure. In this connection, reports on the lack of psychiatrists offering to help the vulnerable population has been gauged by many researchers.
  • Suicidal Ideation. Bhise & Behere (2016) reveals that approximately 33% of the survivors had suicidal ideations in the month prior to their assessment (Bhise & Behere, 2016).

Also, cultural acceptance of suicidal ideation may also contribute to larger prevalence in those regions. Example, south Indian states have a higher prevalence of farmer suicide may be attributed to suicidal ideations being culturally accepted (Patel el al, 2012).

Mental Health and Farmers Suicide

Increased risk of suicide amongst farmers was not merely due to elevated rate of mental health problems. Individual personality, gender and community attitudes that colour a person's ability to express mental health problems and seek help may be additional risk factors. (19) There is some evidence on the low rate of psychiatric morbidity in farmers as compared to the general population (Thomas et al., 2003).

However, there is evidence from studies in Karnataka, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, and other states in India that the role of socioeconomic stress in farmer suicide may be greater than the role of mental disorders (Gruere & Sengupta, 2011). Studies have not discovered conclusive evidence of psychiatric morbidity behind farmer suicides; rather these studies and other statistical data point toward severe socioeconomic adversity as the primary trigger.

Recommendations and Road ahead

The issue of farmer suicide is a systemic issue and needs to be dealt with a multi-pronged approach addressing each and every factor that affects it. The following recommendations have been made keeping in mind the severity and complexity of the problem.

1. Increasing Productivity

  • a. Awareness about crop diversification and crop rotation. It will ensure the soil retaining its fertility and sustainable use of the resources, thereby increasing the output to input ratio.
  • b. Better irrigation practices to minimise wastage and ensure optimal utilisation of available resources.
  • c. Scope for research and development in the field so as to improve quality of food grains produced and ensure appropriate yield.

2. Middlemen and intermediaries need to be eliminated. Some strategies or policies to link the subsidies, minimum support prise, bank accounts (financial inclusion) and access to markets need to be implemented.

3. Proactive role in creation and maintenance of a stable irrigation source and provison of agricultural infrastructure is of absolute importance (Golait, 2007).

4. Employing mental health professionals aided with financial solutions on ground to deal with farmers in distress in suicide prone areas.

  • a. Addressing concerns and venting emotions by means of talk therapy
  • b. Behavioural change: Hopelessness, learnt helplessness needs to be dealt with.
  • c. Dealing with issues such as alcoholism by means of de-addiction problems.

5. Targeting the most vulnerable population based on the socioeconomic characteristics of the farmers who committed suicide and their operational holdings.

District wise list of indebted farmers need to be made and de-stressing efforts through financial and psychological counselling.

6. Setting up institutions that provide reliable advice (Meeta & Rajivlochan, 2006), appropriate soil and water quality testing, post which the farmers are provided with a appropriate list of crops that can be grown, amount of pesticides, insecticides, fungicides, weedicides, fertilizers; appropriate irrigation pattern to be followed as well as information pertaining to the credit options available.

7. Documentation of land holdings and identity proof. Provision of an official document that specifies farming or agriculture as a profession, thereby facilitating the process of gaining credit from formal sources.

8. Imparting knowledges about institutional mechanisms such as Minimum Support Price (MSP), Kishor shakti yojna, kishor Mudra Yojana, Kishor Bachat Yojana, etc.

9. Community led awareness about climate-tailored agricultural practices need to be employed.

10. Crop insurance schemes such as PM Krisgi Sinchayi Yojana must be promoted. Strict and timely settlement of insurance claims is a must.

11. Distressed farmers must be helped on humanitarian grounds by means of crowdfunding by the civil society or cooperate social responsibility (CSR) by organisations.

12. Research must be carried out for the purpose of leveraging advancements in technology focussing on development of new genotypes at subsidised rates, sensitisation to adverse weather conditions and precision farming techniques.

Conclusion

The above aforementioned discussion suggests that farmer suicide is a multifaceted, cumulative and progressive epidemic. A sense of urgency needs to be created in order to effectively deal with this problem that is deep-rooted in the agrarian society.

Dominic Merriott (2017) pointed out that socioeconomic factors play an important role and are the cause to suicide rather than mental health illnesses. Hence, farmer suicides cannot be solely attributed to mental illness. The epidemic encompasses institutional and structural flaws of the economy and society, that needs to be rectified so as to improve the mental well being of individuals. That being said, as mental health professionals, it is our responsibility to design and implement community-led interventions, focussed at reducing the rates of suicides by means of psychoeducation: financial, social and psychological, build resilience and minimise learned helplessness, thereby ensuring optimal mental health.

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Prerequisites And Reasons Of Farmer Suicide in India. (2022, February 21). Edubirdie. Retrieved June 24, 2024, from https://edubirdie.com/examples/prerequisites-and-reasons-of-farmer-suicide-in-india/
“Prerequisites And Reasons Of Farmer Suicide in India.” Edubirdie, 21 Feb. 2022, edubirdie.com/examples/prerequisites-and-reasons-of-farmer-suicide-in-india/
Prerequisites And Reasons Of Farmer Suicide in India. [online]. Available at: <https://edubirdie.com/examples/prerequisites-and-reasons-of-farmer-suicide-in-india/> [Accessed 24 Jun. 2024].
Prerequisites And Reasons Of Farmer Suicide in India [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Feb 21 [cited 2024 Jun 24]. Available from: https://edubirdie.com/examples/prerequisites-and-reasons-of-farmer-suicide-in-india/
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