Farmer suicides in Karnataka – The Hindu

Is it falling prices? Is it a glut in production? Or are farmers just falling into debt because of aspirational spending? Whatever the reason, Karnataka is again facing the spectre of rising suicides

“Crop loans are difficult to get, but large personal or consumption loans are easily available. This is the surest way to push farmers into deep debt, from which they are unable to recover because their earnings cannot keep pace with agricultural costs.” Photo: K.Bhagya Prakash

Krishna, 32, a farmer in Singamaranahalli, about 30 km from Hunsur in Mysuru district, consumed pesticide and died in the first week of June. The sesame farmer with three acres of land could not survive the debt trap he was in. He had defaulted on repayment to a local cooperative bank, fallen into the clutches of moneylenders, the water table had dropped, and his borewells had run dry. Having lost all hope of repaying the loans, he decided to end it all.

In the last fortnight alone, 50 farmers have committed suicide in Karnataka. The State Agriculture Minister Krishna Byre Gowda admits “it is alarming”. What is puzzling is that cases of farmer suicides had actually dropped over the last two years and have now suddenly begun to increase from mid-June onwards.

The suicides point to two things: first, a serious agrarian crisis shaped by an increase in cultivation costs and a decline in agricultural income, which is pushing farmers into a debt trap; and second, the sociological pressures that farmers face because of the disparity between their income and those in urban areas.

Vivek Cariappa is an organic farmer from Mysuru. He talks of the insecurity among farmers because neither the State nor institutional mechanisms have been able to address the crisis.

It is difficult to get crop loans, he says, but loans for consumption goods like cars, or personal loans for weddings and festivals are easily available. It is the surest way to push farmers into debt.

In Panakanahalli in Mandya district, Mahesh took a loan for his sister’s marriage. In Kestur village of Chamarajanagar district, Nanjundaiah borrowed Rs. 30,000 from a bank and Rs. 4 lakh from moneylenders to get his daughters married. Both farmers were unable to repay the loans and committed suicide.

The problem is also sociological: Farmers who aspire to the lifestyle of salaried persons end up taking loans, sometimes at 60-80 per cent interest rates, and become prey to loan sharks.

“ There is a serious agrarian crisis with an increase in agricultural costs and a decline in earnings. There is also sociological pressure ”

For most farmers across the State, what were once considered luxury items such as cars have now become aspirational necessities. Kurubur Shanthakumar, President of the State Sugarcane Growers’ Association, talks of how he followed his father’s footsteps and became a farmer, but his son wanted to study in Mysuru. This ended up costing Shanthakumar a sizeable sum of money. The pressure is most severe in areas close to the big urban centres of Mysuru and Bengaluru, but is true in general all over, points out G.K. Veeresh, former chairman of the State government’s committee that studied farmer suicides in 2002.

Then, mono-cropping had been seen as a major cause for suicides. Mr. Veeresh talks about how farmers had a tendency to focus on a single crop if it had seen commercial success. The problem was, when it failed, they faced total collapse. More than land holding, says Mr. Veeresh, crop planning is the bigger issue. Farmers must be educated to see the long-term benefits of “multi crop-multi income” farming.

But this time around, the farmers who committed suicide don’t appear to have stayed with one crop. Yes, some sugarcane farmers have faced a major crisis after sugar factories, mostly owned by powerful politicians, defaulted on payments, but they have not accounted for the majority of suicides.

T.N. Prakash, Chairman, Karnataka Agriculture Price Commission, speaks of the urgent need to address the issue of rising input costs when incomes stay stagnant. One suggestion Mr. Prakash makes is interesting. He says that the Agriculture Price Commission could instead become a commission for agricultural cost, prices and farmer’s incomes, which would give it more authority to implement suitable measures.

Another reason could be a glut in production. Mr. Cariappa and Mr. Shanthakumar point out that the State, despite having records of the area under sugarcane cultivation and the crushing capacities of sugar mills, has turned a blind eye to excessive cultivation. This has kept prices low enough to benefit the sugar mills owned by politicians.

This glut is true for cotton, tobacco and other crops as well. Excess production helps processing industries, as it ensures that the prices of raw materials stay low and they profit from it. There is also “mass hysteria” when a farmer commits suicide, and it may result in others taking the same step. Politics over farmer suicides and the wide publicity they get tend, in a way, to “glorify” suicides and worsen the situation, says Mr. Veeresh.

via Farmer suicides in Karnataka – The Hindu.

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