Trap Or Suicide Trap?
By RM Vidyasagar
and K Suman Chandra
20 June, 2004
3,000 Andhra Pradesh farmers committed suicide in the past five years
owing to debt trap, drought and crop failure. After the government of
Y S Rajashekhar Reddy announced free electricity for agriculture , waiver
of electricity dues and a Rs.150,000 financial assistance for the relatives
of the farmers who committed suicide , there is a spate of suicides,
on an average 70 farmers a week.
are committing suicide with the hope of getting the relief package.
Here is a study conducted by RM Vidyasagar and K Suman Chandra for Centre
for Social Development, National Institute of Rural Development, Hyderabad,
"Farmers Suicides in Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka".
Here we produce excerpts from its Chapter IV, Summary, Conclusions
and Suggestions for Future Interventions
This study has identified
a suicide belt consisting of districts in Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka
states where instances of farmers suicide continues unabated for
last five to six years. This belt falls mainly in the arid and semi-arid
zones of the Royalaseema region and in certain other districts in northern
Karnataka that are contiguous to Royalaseema region. Within this region,
farmers suicides have become a persisting feature for last five
years in Anantapur district of Andhra Pradesh. Certain districts adjoining
Anantapur but falling in Karnataka are also taken up where it is observed
that suicides are taking place or have taken place.
perspective on farmers suicide in India (well articulated by Veeresh
Committee report) has been critically analyzed in this study to argue
that farmers suicides cannot be reduced to personal problems but
related to the context of agrarian crisis.
There is also a view that ex-gratia payment to the suicide victims will
Though ex-gratia payment is made during the earlier bout of farmers
suicides in Warangal district of AP, suicides have stopped at present
when the farmers are able to tide over the crisis at least temporarily.
However, even though such payments are not made in the case of Anantapur,
suicides continue unabated in this region for last five years. Thus,
it is an erroneous view that ex-gratia payments to the suicide victims
families will encourage suicides.
Agrarian Background of the Suicide Belt
The northern districts
of Karnataka bordering to Royalaseema region share the same agricultural
background as Anantapur district. Drought condition is not something
strange to Anantapur as this is one of the two districts in the country
having lowest rainfall. Thus, low rainfall and drought conditions alone
do not explain why farmers should take recourse to such extreme step
while the farmers have already built enough resilience to drought conditions.
One of the striking
features of changes in cropping pattern is that over a period of time
Anantapur district has almost become a mono-crop district. It is seen
that the area under groundnut has tremendously increased during last
two decades, from a mere 16% of the gross cropped area 1930-31 to 70%
in 1999-2000. The increase is sharper from late 1980s.
of cereal crops (coarse grains) were also drought resistance to a greater
extent and dependency on market for inputs was not much. But at present
the mono-culture of groundnut has completely transformed socio-economic
life of people. This is the crucial factor in understanding the phenomenon
of farmers suicides. Resilience to drought is broken due to mono-culture
A recent study done
by the Govt. of Andhra Pradesh reported that more than 55 percent of
the farmers are not getting the Minimum Support Price (MSP). This is
true in the case of Anantapur also. Most of the farmers are tied to
the traders and middlemen who are dealing in agricultural inputs. This
depresses the price that farmers are to get for their output. The cost
of cultivation is increasing manifold in the 1990s.
Available data (1995
Agricultural Census) on land holdings in Anantapur district shows that
about 90% of the holdings are small and marginal holdings. They are
under great pressure owing to their dependency on vagaries of market
and non-institutional forces that control input, credit and output markets.
Karnataka in general has a vast tract of drought-prone area
is said that the state has a disproportionate share of drought-prone
areas in the country. The northern districts of Karnataka are considered
backward compared to other parts of the state.
The crop pattern
is tilting in favour of commercialization and hence the risk of crop
loss increased due to higher proportion of purchased inputs and technology.
There is also a tendency to adopt mono-culture and consequent over-exploitation
of land. Marginal lands are being brought under cultivation and this
puts pressure on the inputs as well as on farming practices. Technology
available is lumpy in nature and therefore failure of one component
can lead to a severe aggregate crop loss. The cash component in the
package of inputs has increased substantially and has necessitated higher
cash needs. In the districts that are identified for high incidence
of farmers suicides, the area under irrigation is low and in most
cases the source of irrigation is private wells.
holding in Karnataka has been reducing from 3.20 hectares during 1970-71
to 1.95 hectares during 1995-96. Number of marginal and small holdings
almost doubled during this period. During 1995 marginal and small holdings
accounted for 42% and 27% respectively of all the holdings in the state.
In the districts selected for the study in Karnataka, marginal and small
Socio-Economic Profile Findings from the field study
* The incidence
of suicides has been very high during 2001 as many farmers have sustained
loss in agriculture owing to erratic monsoon during 2000. Farmers
suicides in Anantapur district at present indicate that the incidence
is again very high during 2002-03 due to severe drought conditions and
* Farmers suicides cannot be attributed to any specific social/caste
* About 95% of the sample cases among suicide victims are males.
* About 55% of the victims in Anantapur are in the age group of 31-45
years. It is almost similar in the case of sample cases in Karnataka.
For many young people there are no adequate employment opportunities
This compels them to remain in the village and somehow improve their
income. Traditional subsistence farming not being more income yielding,
there is a tendency among young people to shift for commercial farming
many of them are caught into the quagmire of mono crop.
* Our data indicates that there is no correlation between education
levels and suicides.
* The data clearly show that victim farmers were more caught in the
debt trap of non-institutional sources of credit compared to control
* In many cases extreme step of suicide was taken recourse due to heavy
pressure and humiliation from the private moneylenders.
* This is mainly because of the tie up that the farmers, especially
the small, marginal and medium level farmers, have with the traders
who also act as input suppliers, moneylenders and traders in agricultural
Reasons for committing
Our study reveals that the debt trap is the main cause of certain farmers
taking the extreme step of committing suicide. Debt trap is getting
tightened up because of the agrarian crisis on the one hand and inaccessibility
of institutional credit on the other. No institutions are forthcoming
to lend money to farming community for the same purposes for which they
lend money to urban middle class. Thus the farmers have to depend on
problem is cited as a high probable cause of farmers suicide in
Veeresh Committee Report. Crop failure got less value than alcoholism
in the probability analysis of the Committee. During the late 1990s,
hundreds of farmers committed suicides in Warangal district of Andhra
Pradesh. This was associated with heavy loss they suffered in cotton
cultivation and the resultant debt trap. There were some interventions
and the situation has improved with regard to cotton cultivation for
the time being. As the conclusion of Veeresh Committee goes about attributing
alcoholism as the main cause for suicides, the cases of suicides would
not have stopped in Warangal district as no alcoholism still continue
there but not suicides.
The fact is that
inspite of all crisis the peasants are clinging on to their land and
also leasing in small parcels of land for cultivation. On the one hand
land is seen as the basic line and on the other peasants are not left
with any other option but to depend on agriculture. Thus the issue is
to protect the interest of these resource poor farmers. However, Veeresh
Committee has recommended almost to doing away with small farming that
is considered as uneconomical. One of the important recommendations
of this Committee is to bring radical changes in the existing Land Reforms
Act. As the tenant farmers are leasing in land on contractual basis,
they are not eligible for institutional credit and crop insurance. They
have to depend on private sources of money lending at high rate of interests.
The Committee has therefore recommended for "appropriate amendments
to the Land Reforms Act so that the consolidation of small holdings
and leasing operations of land are facilitated for a gainful employment
without sacrificing the interests of farmers. Such amendments should
be pro-active in attracting private investment and to prompt contract
farming by groups, corporate sector and individuals can take lead on
lease basis. Further such activities should also be declared as eligible
for availing institutional finances and MSP." In essence, this
step would only strengthen the corporate sector to lease in vast tract
of lands as they have the needed resources. Peasants who are already
under crisis cannot imagine to leasing in lands to the extent that it
would be economically viable. For example, Karnataka Govt. has already
identified certain districts in the state to be covered under the Agri-Export
Zones where the corporate sector would be provided a package of service.
An MOU has already been signed with Gherkins Production. There are moves
by the Tamil Nadu Govt. inviting corporate sector to lease vast tracts
of the so-called waste lands. Instead of making the small
and marginal farms more viable with appropriate supportive measures,
the suggestions for so-called radical changes in the land reforms would
only push the resource poor farmers out of their own land adding to
their misery. Experiences in other countries like China, South Korea,
etc. should be taken into account for strengthening the small forms
instead of eliminating them.
Response of the farmers movement
During 1998, when
farmers suicides were reported from different parts of the country,
the "Forum of Farmers Organizations on Globalization and agriculture"
held a workshop at New Delhi and passed resolutions demanding safeguards
for small and marginal farmers from the onslaught of WTO. This was not
followed by any active mobilization of peasants at the field level.
However, in Ananthapur district the All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS) associated
with CPI has organized protest marches and voiced concern about farmers
suicides in different forums. During the Asian Social Forum meet at
Hyderabad during January 2003, a public hearing on farmers suicide
was organized by the AIKS. The issue of farmers suicide has been
raised in the legislative assemblies of the respective states by the
opposition parties. In fact in Anantapur district, the Congress Party
mobilized resources and paid compensation to the families of the victims
(it is another issue that the Congress which is a ruling party in Karnataka
refuses to pay any such ex-gratia payments to the families of the victims).
Beyond these, active mobilization of farmers who are caught in the debt
trap is not taking place.
Suicide of farmers
in such phenomenal scale cannot be just dismissed as personal and psychological
problems or mass hysteria. This would amount to psychological reductionism.
The central issue of farmers suicides is the debt trap. Small
and marginal farmers, especially those, who lease in land from others,
are not eligible for availing institutional credit and crop insurance.
Thus they land at the doorsteps of the usurious moneylenders. This debt
trap is tightening because of the drastic shifts in the cropping pattern
that is market driven. Government policies like removal of QRs under
WTO regime have created havoc and exposed the farmers to the volatility
of international market and prices. This situation has helped in strengthening
the merchant capital and the traders cum moneylenders have their fortunes
in the absence of supportive institutional mechanisms. Market driven
mono cropping has damaged the fertility of the soil and created ecological
imbalances. All these factors along with the usual social pressure have
made many small and marginal farmers to throw up their hands. This process
is intensifying during the last decade under the regime of liberalization
(Centre for Social
Development, National Institute of Rural Development, Hyderabad published
the study "Farmers Suicides in Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka"
by RM Vidyasagar and K Suman Chandra in April 2003)