India's farmer suicides blamed on fertiliser over-use

Thursday January 13, 2011
By Sam Devraj  ( Assistant Editor )
Assurance of compensation: Madhya Pradesh chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan

Assurance of compensation: Madhya Pradesh chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan

THE AGRICULTURE minister of Madhya Pradesh today blamed a recent spate of farmer suicides on over-use of chemical fertilisers and urged the country to embrace organic production.

Seven cases of poor farmers taking their lives have surfaced in less than a month in Madhya Pradesh and at least five others are battling for their lives having made attempts to commit suicide by drinking pesticide.

Harvests are down 60 per cent because of unseasonal rains that fell in September and intense frost in the past month, which has decimated wheat, soya beans, peas, and orange crops, the local farmers’ association says.

Families of the deceased have blamed the pressure of mounting debts and the prospect of financial ruin, though experts stress that suicides are normally the result of several factors and often stem from mental health problems.

State agriculture minister Ramkrishna Kusmaria, in whose constituency district Damoh several of the suicides occurred, courted controversy by suggesting the farmers were partly responsible for their financial hardship.

“The damage to crops is taking place because of our old sins. Regular use of chemicals in fields has weakened the health and resistance and crops are getting damaged,” Kusmaria told reporters today.

“The farmers should turn to organic farming.”

His comments go to the heart of a debate in India about the country’s embrace of intensive farming and fertiliser use in the 1970s that led to the country’s much-discussed “Green Revolution.”

This helped boost farm yields, which has helped to feed India’s booming 1.2-billion population, but it has also had damaging effects on the environment and has resulted in increased costs for farmers.

Despite economic development in cities, two out of three Indians still live and work in rural areas and as many as 150,000 farmers have killed themselves in the past decade, the Tata Institute of Social Sciences said in 2009.

The subject was taken up in an acclaimed Indian film last year called Peepli Live made by the production company of Bollywood star, Aamir Khan.

The film, directed by first-time director Anusha Rizvi, revolves around two poor farmers who face losing their land over an unpaid debt after poor monsoon rains.

A local politician suggests to the farmers that they commit suicide so their families get compensation, but a journalist overhears one of the farmers urging the other to end his own life, triggering a media frenzy.

In Madhya Pradesh, state chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan has assured farmers of compensation for their damaged crops and has requested a Rs50bn ($1.2bn/£76.2m) aid package from the federal government.


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