Mumbai: Maharashtra's Vidarbha region has seen 168 farmer suicides in the
first three months of this year.
Made up of 11 districts, Vidarbha is home to two-thirds of the
state's mineral resources and three-quarters of its forest
resources. But poverty and malnutrition and endemic.
"According to police reports, 168 farmer suicides have been
registered till March 31 this year," said Kishor Tiwari, president
of the Vidarbha Jan Andolan Samiti, a farmer advoacy group.
"This averages to 56 deaths a month, defining the many years of
agrarian crisis of the region, not to mention the apathy of the
administration," he added.
Tiwari said that while rising costs of cultivation and falling
returns were the core reasons pushing farmers to suicide, there
were other factors too.
There is also an ecological crisis as farming practices have
tended towards maximising output of a narrow range, leading to
monoculture of crops.
"The deep economic crisis has reduced income of farmers, resulted
in stagnant yield and increased cultivation cost. And reduced
institutional credit adds to the misery," Tiwari said.
"All policy support, be it from the government of from institutes,
are skewed towards large farmers, large farms, few cash crops and
high external input-based production systems," he said.
According to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), one farmer
kills himself every 37 minutes in India.
About 14,000 farmers committed suicide in 2011 alone.
A NCRB report stated that in the 17 years from 1995 to 2011,
270,940 farmers committed suicide in the country.
Of these, nearly 20 percent were only from Maharashtra, where
53,818 suicides were reported.
Political experts and agriculturists point out that the 11
districts of Vidarbha, though rich in minerals, coal, forests and
mountains, continue to remain underdeveloped because of the
dominance by political leadership from the other parts of the
state, especially western Maharashtra.
According to another report by NCRB, in 2006, Maharashtra, with
4,453 farmer suicides, accounted for over a quarter of the
all-India total farm suicides of 17,060.
Yet another report from the Bureau said that while the number of
farm suicides rose since 2001, the number of farmers has fallen,
as thousands, in distress, turn their back to agriculture.
Till around 1970, Vidarbha farmers cultivated cotton using seeds
from their own plants. With the start of hybrid seeds, the yields
increased significantly but so did the need for costly fertiliser
Agriculturists have also blamed the restrictions and royalties
placed on Genetically Modified Organism (GMO) seeds by Monsanto
for the spurt in suicides.
In 2002, genetically modified BT cotton seeds arrived.
Like the hybrid variety, they are non-renewable terminator seeds,
and must be re-purchased every year. Today they dominate the
It has been pointed out by several agriculturists that these new
methods caused farmers to suffer losses leading to debt, pushing
them to suicide.
In August 2012, technical experts appointed by the Supreme Court
recommended a 10-year moratorium on all field trials of GM food,
as well as the termination of all current trials of transgenic
"Also, the government has never kept their word on the minimum
support price of cotton. Last year, cotton farmers had to take to
the streets after Cotton Corp of India fixed the minimum support
price for cotton at Rs.3,300, far below the market rate of
Rs.4,800 per quintal," Tiwari said.
Farmers had then demanded that the the minimum support price of
cotton be raised from Rs.3,300 to Rs.6,000 per quintal to cover
increases in production costs.
"It is tragic to note that Maharashtra produces 70 percent of the
country's cotton, but its cotton-producing regions are infamous
for farmer suicide," Tiwari said.
(Mauli Buch can be contacted at email@example.com)