Suicide Economy Of
By Vandana Shiva
05 April, 2004
Indian peasantry, the largest body of surviving small farmers in the
world, today faces a crisis of extinction.
Two thirds of India
makes its living from the land. The earth is the most generous employer
in this country of a billion, that has farmed this land for more than
However, as farming
is delinked from the earth, the soil, the biodiversity, and the climate,
and linked to global corporations and global markets, and the generosity
of the earth is replaced by the greed of corporations, the viability
of small farmers and small farms is destroyed. Farmers suicides are
the most tragic and dramatic symptom of the crisis of survival faced
by Indian peasants.
1997 witnessed the
first emergence of farm suicides in India. A rapid increase in indebtedness,
was at the root of farmers taking their lives. Debt is a reflection
of a negative economy, a loosing economy. Two factors have transformed
the positive economy of agriculture into a negative economy for peasants
- the rising costs of production and the falling prices of farm commodities.
Both these factors are rooted in the policies of trade liberalization
and corporate globalisation.
In 1998, the World
Bank's structural adjustment policies forced India to open up its seed
sector to global corporations like Cargill, Monsanto, and Syngenta.
The global corporations changed the input economy overnight. Farm saved
seeds were replaced by corporate seeds which needed fertilizers and
pesticides and could not be saved.
As seed saving is
prevented by patents as well as by the engineering of seeds with non-renewable
traits, seed has to be bought for every planting season by poor peasants.
A free resource available on farms became a commodity which farmers
were forced to buy every year. This increases poverty and leads to indebtedness.
As debts increase
and become unpayable, farmers are compelled to sell kidneys or even
commit suicide. More than 25,000 peasants in India have taken their
lives since 1997 when the practice of seed saving was transformed under
globalisation pressures and multinational seed corporations started
to take control of the seed supply. Seed saving gives farmers life.
Seed monopolies rob farmers of life.
The shift from farm
saved seed to corporate monopolies of the seed supply is also a shift
from biodiversity to monocultures in agriculture. The District of Warangal
in Andhra Pradesh used to grow diverse legumes, millets, and oilseeds.
Seed monopolies created crop monocultures of cotton, leading to disappearance
of millions of products of nature's evolution and farmer's breeding.
uniformity increase the risks of crop failure as diverse seeds adapted
to diverse ecosystems are replaced by rushed introduction of unadapted
and often untested seeds into the market. When Monsanto first introduced
Bt Cotton in India in 2002, the farmers lost Rs. 1 billion due to crop
failure. Instead of 1,500 Kg / acre as promised by the company, the
harvest was as low as 200 kg. Instead of increased incomes of Rs. 10,000
/ acre, farmers ran into losses of Rs. 6400 / acre.
In the state of
Bihar, when farm saved corn seed was displaced by Monsanto's hybrid
corn, the entire crop failed creating Rs. 4 billion losses and increased
poverty for already desperately poor farmers. Poor peasants of the South
cannot survive seed monopolies.
And the crisis of
suicides shows how the survival of small farmers is incompatible with
the seed monopolies of global corporations.
The second pressure
Indian farmers are facing is the dramatic fall in prices of farm produce
as a result of free trade policies of the W.T.O. The WTO rules for trade
in agriculture are essentially rules for dumping. They have allowed
an increase in agribusiness subsidies while preventing countries from
protecting their farmers from the dumping of artificially cheap produce.
High subsidies of
$ 400 billion combined with forced removal of import restrictions is
a ready-made recipe for farmer suicides. Global prices have dropped
from $ 216 / ton in 1995 to $ 133 / ton in 2001 for wheat, $ 98.2 /
ton in 1995 to $ 49.1 / ton in 2001 for cotton, $ 273 / ton in 1995
to $ 178 / ton for soyabean. This reduction to half the price is not
due to a doubling in productivity but due to an increase in subsidies
and an increase in market monopolies controlled by a handful of agribusiness
Thus the U.S government
pays $ 193 per ton to US Soya farmers, which artificially lowers the
rice of soya. Due to removal of Quantitative Restrictions and lowering
of tariffs, cheap soya has destroyed the livelihoods of coconut growers,
mustard farmers, producers of sesame, groundnut and soya.
cotton producers in the U.S are given a subsidy of $ 4 billion annually.
This has brought cotton prices down artificially, allowing the U.S to
capture world markets which were earlier accessible to poor African
countries such as Burkina, Faso, Benin, Mali. The subsidy of $ 230 per
acre in the U.S is genocidal for the African farmers. African cotton
farmers are loosing $ 250 million every year. That is why small African
countries walked out of the Cancun negotiations, leading to the collapse
of the W.T.O ministerial.
The rigged prices
of globally traded agriculture commodities are stealing incomes from
poor peasants of the south. Analysis carried out by the Research Foundation
for Science, Technology and Ecology shows that due to falling farm prices,
Indian peasants are loosing $ 26 billion or Rs. 1.2 trillion annually.
This is a burden their poverty does not allow them to bear. Hence the
epidemic of farmer suicides.
India was among
the countries that questioned the unfair rules of W.T.O in agriculture
and led the G-22 alliance along with with Brazil and China. India with
other southern countries addressed the need to safeguard the livelihoods
of small farmers from the injustice of free trade based on high subsidies
and dumping. Yet at the domestic level, official agencies in India are
in deep denial of any links between free trade and farmers survival.
An example of this
denial is a Government of Karnataka report on "Farmers suicide
in Karnataka - A scientific analysis". The report while claiming
to be "scientific", makes unscientific reductionist claims
that the farm suicides have only psychological causes, not economic
ones, and identifies alcoholism as the root cause of suicides. Therefore,
instead of proposing changes in agricultural policy, the report recommends
that farmers be required to boost up their self respect (swabhiman)
and self-reliance (swavalambam).
its recommendations for farmer self-reliance are changes in the Karnataka
Land Reforms Act to allow larger land holdings and leasing. These are
steps towards the further decimation of small farmers who have been
protected by land "ceilings" (an upper limit on land ownership)
and policies that only allow peasants and agriculturalists to own agricultural
land (part of the land to the tiller policies of the Devraj Urs government).
While the "expert
committee" report identified "alcoholism" as the main
cause for suicides, the figures of this "scientific" claim
are inconsistent and do not reflect the survey. On page 10, the report
states in one place that 68 percent of the suicide victims were alcoholics.
Five lines later it states that 17 percent were "alcohol and illicit
It also states that
the majority of suicide victims were small and marginal farmers and
the majority had high levels of indebtedness. Yet debt is not identified
as a factor leading to suicide. On page 32 of the report it is stated
that of the 105 cases studied among the 3544 suicides which had occurred
in five districts during 2000 - 2001, 93 had debts, 54 percent had borrowed
from private sources and money lenders.
More than 90% of
suicide victims were in debt. Yet a table on page 63 has mysteriously
reduced debt as a reason for suicide to 2.6%, and equally mysteriously,
"suicide victims having a bad habit" has emerged as the primary
cause of farmers suicides.
The government is
desperate to delink farm suicides from economic processes linked to
globalisation such as rise in indebtedness and increased frequency of
crop failure due to higher ecologic vulnerability arising from climate
change and drought and higher economic risks due to introduction of
untested, unadopted seeds.
This is evident
in recommendation no. 18.104.22.168 "The government should launch prosecution
on the responsible persons involved in misleading the public and government
by providing false information about farmers suicide as crop failure
or indebtedness" (page 113 of expert committee report).
suicides cannot be delinked from indebtedness and the economic distress
small farmers are facing. Indebtedness is not new. Farmers have always
organised for freedom from debt.
In the nineteenth
century the so call "Deccan Riots" were farmers protests against
the debt trap into which they had been pushed to supply cheap cotton
to the textile mills in Britain. In the eighties they formed peasant
organisations to fight for debt relief from public debt linked to Green
However, under globalisation,
the farmer is loosing her / his social, cultural, economic identity
as a producer. A farmer is now a "consumer" of costly seeds
and costly chemicals sold by powerful global corporations through powerful
landlords and money lenders locally.
is leading to corporate feudalism, the most inhumane, brutal and exploitative
convergence of global corporate capitalism and local feudalism, in the
face of which the farmer as an individual victim feels helpless. The
bureaucratic and technocratic systems of the state are coming to the
rescue of the dominant economic interests by blaming the victim.
It is necessary
to stop this war against small farmers. It is necessary to re-write
the rules of trade in agriculture. It is necessary to change our paradigms
of food production. Feeding humanity should not depend on the extinction
of farmers and extinction of species. Another agriculture is possible
and necessary - an agriculture that protects farmers livelihoods, the
earth and its biodiversity and public health.