According to the National Crime Records Bureau, about 50,000 Indian farmers committed suicide between 2006 and 20081, the most recent year for which figures are available. In the ten years between 1997 and 2008, no fewer than 200,000 farmers on their sub-continent took their own lives.
The phenomenon has become almost commonplace, as the scale of these figures shows, to the extent that the issue has its own page on Wikipedia, the free online encyclopedia, with the title “Farmers’ suicides in India”. The causes of the suicides are the debt facing some farmers, the lack of availability of credit for others, the dilapidated condition of facilities, a lack of support and infrastructures, and, above all, the volatility in the prices of agricultural products, often on the downward trend, which reduce their meager incomes considerably.
In its fight to improve the food security of its population, India’s government recently emphasized the role of consumers, as demonstrated by its food security bill, which is intended to improve the fate of households living below the poverty line by ensuring that they receive a minimum level of food aid per month. Though the bill cannot be voted on for a year due to delays generated by the administration in an attempt to estimate the number of families eligible for the scheme, consumers nevertheless remain the State’s priority. On Friday, May 13, the Indian government, in a statement by the Minister for Agriculture and Food, Sharad Pawar, expressed its relief in confirming that the worst of the inflation affecting foodstuffs had passed, and prices were expected to begin to go down.
It is certainly difficult to balance the interests of producers and those of consumers. The former seek to set a high price to receive a decent wage for their work, while the latter want a low price so that they can eat cheaply. However, given that farmers are often the ones who are the poorest of all, perhaps the problem should be dealt with the other way around. If one improves the capacity of farmers to produce, that in turn increases global food security. This would improve the fate of agricultural households living below the poverty line, even if this balance is achieved by providing the most destitute people with food aid such as that planned in the food security bill which is being discussed by the Indian parliament.
1 Quoted from an article entitled “How to be an ‘eligible suicide’“, published in The Hindu, India’s national newspaper, May 13, 2010