Troubled by the severely deficit monsoon which triggered the worst drought in 140 years,over 100 farmers,mostly in Cauvery Delta have reportedly committed suicide during a periodof 1 month, and the number continues to rise unabated.
Various farmers associations have voiced their concerns before the State Government and have demanded immediate relief measures to halt it.Following the concerns put forth by the farmers associations, chief minister recently declared the entire state drought-hit and announced measures worth rs. 160 crore and rs. 350 crore to alleviate the water crisis in urban and rural local bodies respectively and has ordered the rescheduling of farm loans,
cancellation of land tax and compensation for lost crops to drought-affected farmers.
The Chief Minister has also assured to take steps to provide employment to rural population and extending employment under MGNREGS by 50 days.
These measures no doubt look alluring and beneficial to the stressed farmers.However, have our policymakers diagnosed the deep rooted cause of farm suicides? Is drought the only factor that is driving the farmers to commit suicide? If so,then why were no suicides reported in 1972, 1982 and 1987 when the country experienced its worst droughts?
Debt, the killer?
Indebtness is found to be the main cause behind the farmers extreme form of distress that drive them towards suicide.There is an overwhelming feeling among the policy circles that a loan waiver can solve
farm suicides.If a one time relief package can bail out the debt-ridden farmers, then the massive
Rs. 71,680 crore Agriculture Debt Waive and Debt Relief Scheme announced in May 2008 should have produced the desired results by now. Government data indicate that farm sucides increased after laon waiver.
As the non availability of farm credit is reportedly causing distress among farmers, a doubling of agriculture credit scheme was introduced during 2004-05 to increase the flow of credit to farmers.However, the RangarajanCommittee on Financial Inclusion (2008) noted that about 66 percent of the farmers are continuously resorting to informal sources of credit.The re-emergence of farm suicides since 2007 is an indication that something beyond farm indebtedness is prompting farmers to commit suicide
The Real Issue
The fast increase in cost of cultivation of various crops has been a major problem for farmers in the last two decades.Data on the cost of cultivation of different crops published by the Commission for Agriculture Costs and Prices (CACP) shows that most of the foodgrain and non-foodgrain crops in the major regions of the country have incurred losses right from the early 1990s onwards.
The profit margins during those periods were also dwindling.Why did crop losses rise? It is evident from CACP data that during this period the gross cost required for the crops cultivation was close to the value of the output for both the foodgrain and non foodgrain crops across major growing states, leaving no or very little profit for the farmers.
When income from crop cultivation is neither adequate nor consistent, how can one-time relief measures heal the wounds of farmers? Why don’t the policy makers understand that it is the cause(crop loss) that needs to be cured by proper diagnosis and not the effect (suicide or indebtedness).
Urgent Measures Needed
The prices of farm inputs have skyrocketed in the recent years, reducing the profit margin realised by the farmers.Urgent steps need to be taken to bring down the cost of cultivation without affecting the productivity of crops.A one-time loan waiver will not end the farm suicides.So, as recommended by the National Commission on Farmers the minimum support price that is fixed should be atleast 50 per cent more than the actul cost of cultivation.
Efforts need to be undertaken to restructure MGNREGA by linking it with farming work to reduce the cost of
cultivation especially during peak seasons.