Indian Agrarian Crisis now moved to

Farmer-the most endangered species

Economics and mental health

Posted by Ramoo on February 3, 2007…

February 3rd, 2007 at 8:23 am (Sarah’s Posts)

I picked up the paper yesterday to the headline, “11 farmers end lives in 48 hours,” bringing the total to 62 farmer suicides in Jan 2007. The numbers for the last few years have been catapulting upwards—156 in 2003, 324 in 2004, 412 in 2005, and 1050 in 2006.

A study committee on the causes of the increased suicide rate cites debts and inability to pay them back under increased financial pressure as the reason for many of these suicides. Why? In 2005, India decided (with a significant amount of leaning from the WTO) that they were going to open their cotton market with the goal of liberalizing the economy and ending barriers, tariffs and subsidies is crucial fields. Having to compete on the open market has left these farmers, many of whom are still paying off the land that they work, unable to pay off their loans. One example that the BBC cited spoke of a man who had an initial loan of $200, with interest owed at an additional $300 (that he was making a loss on), which was five times his annual income. These farmers aren’t making enough money to cope with economic shocks, and many are paying off the debts of their land with profits.

“Distress among cotton growers in west Vidarbha has accentuated with the wrong policies of state which is bowing to the WTO norms and free trade policies of globalization. The Bt cotton seeds promoted by the government, instead of giving better yields or disease-free crop, has added to the woes of farmers as they are inadequately trained or protected from fake seeds,” said Vidarbha Jan Adolan Samiti president Tiwari. As a result, the cotton economy of the region has collapsed.

I’m not enough of an economist to speak to how sound this economic policy is (although I’d love to hear what wiser folks say), but I will say that I find these stories extremely troubling, especially because the government’s stance seems to be to blame the suicides on alcoholism and family problems. India is under such pressure to open up their economy in order to gain more power and sway on the international stage. But, I have a (perhaps one-sided, but not entirely untrue) picture in my mind of the business technology guys sitting alongside politicians and deciding to open up the economy to bring in more businesses to give them more money while the ones who suffer without any institutional support are the field laborers. And they make up a darn large part of the workforce here in India. More realistically, the ones who are suffering now are the wives of these farmers who now have to deal with a farm without anyone to work it, a family, and crushing debt.

How should the public health person help families deal with the effects of globalization? I don’t think that it is realistic to say that it shouldn’t happen, or that it won’t. But, there are very clearly people losing out in a big way. To me, one of the major problems is that nobody is catching the increased suicide rates as a major warning sign that there is a problem in the community that requires some action. In so many ways, the public health system can be surveillance for bigger political issues. This is one of many reasons that I think the role of the public health advocate in the future will be riddled with political and economics questions, and it would behoove all of us to add some wisdom about these areas to our arsenals.

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