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Indian farmers seek relief from their debt the hard way

World Affairs Talk | Jan 19, 2007

India is considered as a fast moving economy with good potentials in human development. Despite this economic achievement, desperate farmers in some region of the country are committing suicide with the hope of getting relief from their amorous debt and ill-fated life. It's an epidemic in India, where farmers find themselves trapped in a vicious cycle of poverty with drought and but the outside world sees India as the next Asian Tiger. 

Since 1997, more than 25,000 farmers have committed suicide across the country, many drinking the chemical that was supposed to make their crops more productive. Machinery, chemical fertilizers, pesticides, and hybrid seeds all of which originated in the West, on the contrary spell disaster here rather than prosperity as Indian farmers witness the other side of globalization very closely. The tragedy unfolds largely from crop failure, drought, pests, and false pesticides that small farmers don't have the means to face. The tendency is higher in Warangal District of Andhra Pradesh which is a suicide belt consisting districts of Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka. Apart from this region, Royalaseema, Anantapur, Vidarbha area in East Maharashtra and in certain other districts in northern Karnataka also face the dilemma. 

The government of India has taken policy decisions on big developments, approved plans on big dams, ports and roads, established Social Economic Zones, cut taxes on computer accessories, and decided on big projects. But these farmers got very little from the government what they deserve. The little list of government’s activities includes free electricity for agriculture, waiver of electricity dues and Rs.150, 000 as financial assistance for the relatives of the farmers who committed suicide in 2006. 

Government support price for the farmers is too low; a recent study done by the Government of Andhra Pradesh reported that more than 55 percent of the farmers are not getting the ‘Minimum Support Price’. For instance, In Anantapur district, about 90% of the holdings are small and marginal. They are under immense pressure owing to their dependency on vagaries of market and non-institutional forces that control credit and output markets. Most of the farmers are very much tied to the traders and middlemen. This depresses the price that farmers should get for their output. Additionally, cost of cultivation has increased manifold since 1990s. In 2006, the government-sponsored cotton marketing federation purchased 13, 00,000 quintals of raw cotton from its 100-odd procurement centres, while the private traders have purchased 68,00,000 quintals till December 31. On the other hand, farmers in the region have produced over 220,00,000 raw cotton only in 2006. Poor farmers sometimes look for a helping hand from the agricultural or commercial banks; but these institutions give loan at very high interest rates and ask for collateral, which the farmers fail to produce. 

Several non-governmental organizations including banks, research centers are trying to implement strategies  aiming at increasing these farmers' income by 3 to 4 times through better co-ordination and synergizing the available resources. They through several researches found out that the government apathy, the absence of a safety net for farmers, and lack of access to information related to agriculture are the major causes for the desperate condition of farmers.

Less expensive, lower-risk organic farming methods might offer a solution for the cotton-growing crisis in India. But without a change in agriculture policy and practices, thousands more Indian farmers are likely to take their own lives. 

‘Fastest growing free market democracy’ a slogan that the Indians use to glorify them is not implacable for most of the Indians; 44% of the population still live below the international standard of $1 per day, and as many as 86% live below $2 per day. More public and private investment in the rural areas along with introduction of micro-credit can be considered as a permanent solution. Lowering interest rates will also be important to make cheaper credit available.

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