Agriculture is the predominant sector of the Indian economy. Even while India has opened out to the world by changes caused by globalization, as much as 60% of its population directly or indirectly depend on agriculture for their livelihood.
- The secondary and tertiary sectors in India are growing at rapid rates; still a vast majority of Indians continue to depend on agriculture.
- Every plan for the growth of the Indian economy aims at agricultural development as it is the major sector of the Indian economy
A shallow analysis of the above points would make one to say that there are no problems in the economy, but the truth is something else. Behind all the growth and development lies the reality that Indian farmers have to face – extreme poverty and financial crisis driving them to suicides. But has the government of India done enough to tackle the crisis? Judging by the way the numbers of suicides are rising over the last 10 years, clearly the government is not doing enough.
Causes of the problem:
- Indian agriculture is predominantly dependent on nature. Irrigation facilities that are currently available do not cover the entire cultivable land.
- Indian agriculture is largely an unorganized sector, there is no systematic planning in cultivation, farmers work on lands of uneconomical sizes, institutional finances are not available and minimum purchase prices of the government do not in reality reach the poorest farmer.
- The cost of agricultural inputs have been steadily rising over the years, farmers’ margins of profits have been narrowing
- India has witnessed a spate of droughts over the last decade.
- Repeated crop failures, debt hassles, lack of alternative sources of income, absence of institutional finance have left the farmers with no other solution other than ending their lives
What then needs to be done to prevent this sad state of affairs? There cannot be one single solution to end the woes of farmers. Giving monetary relief is not an effective solution. The solutions should aim at the entire structure of agriculture.
- The dependency of agriculture on nature should be reduced.
- Making institutional finance available and affordable to every farmer is another important solution to save to the farmers from debt traps of money lenders.
- Farmers need to be advised and guided on economical methods of cultivation which would save finances for them.
- The government could also explore the possibility of pooling of the lands of small farmers and making a bigger chunk of economically cultivable land.
If we look at the figures from the year 1995 to 2010, it is concluded that the country has witnessed a quarter of a million farmer suicides during those years. Another survey conducted by the National Crime Records Bureau, the number of farmer suicides in the state of Maharashtra (the state with the most suicides), there has been an increase in the rate of farmer suicides over the last 20 years, with from only 23,902 between the years 1995 and 2003, to 36,848 between 2003 and 2013 (Sainath, 2014). Clearly, the government has not been doing enough and all the solutions that were offered by the government, are failing.
While provision of finance and credit may be broadly seen as a solution, the terms and modes of finance need a more critical look. Eminent economist and father of Indian green revolution, Dr M S Swaminathan recently expressed his deep anguish over the unending vicious cycle of debt leading to suicides in the Maharashtra region. According to Dr Swaminathan, the exorbitant lending rates charged by money lenders is the main root of crisis and thus interest-free Islamic banking could be a solution to the problem. In his view, Islamic banking, which propagates zero interest lending, could hold the key to solving this crisis.
As has been mentioned earlier, there cannot be one single and most effective solution to prevent the suicides of farmers. What is needed is openness and political will on the part of the government of India in acknowledging the severity of the problem and intent to consider new, creative and unconventional solutions to the problem. It can no longer afford to pursue the “politically correct” line of denial. The entire nation must realize that farmers’ suicides are a reflection of the true state of our economy.
Sainath, P. 2014. Maharashtra crosses 60,000 farm suicides. Available at: http://http://psainath.org/maharashtra-crosses-60000-farm-suicides/ [Online]. Last accessed: 17th April 2015