FARMERS’ SUICIDES AND AGRARIAN DISTRESS
“The peasants have started to flex the political muscles that their economic betterment has given them ... They have acquired the capacity to launch the kind of sustained struggle they have. It is going to be difficult to [...] contain them...because they command the vote banks in the countryside to which every party seeks access...A new specter of peasant power is likely to haunt India in coming years.”
Editorial in Times of India, Feb 3 1988, following farmer agitations for higher prices and subsidies in Western Uttar Pradesh
“Agriculture [in India today] is an economic residue that generously accommodates non-achievers resigned to a life of sad satisfaction. The villager is as bloodless as the rural economy is lifeless. From rich to poor, the trend is to leave the village...” Dipankar Gupta, The Vanishing Village
“Rates of growth of agriculture in the last decade have been poor and are a major cause of rural distress. Farming is increasingly becoming an unviable activity.”
Manmohan Singh, Prime Minister of India
India is primarily an agricultural country. More than 60% of its population directly or indirectly depends on agriculture. Agriculture accounts for approximately 33% of India’s GDP. Agriculture in India is often imputed to ‘gambling with monsoon’. Farmers are heavily dependent on the monsoons for their harvest. If the monsoons fail, they leave the farmer under a heap of debt with no harvest, their only source of income. Unable to bear the heavy burden of debt, they see suicide as the de2003-2008. According to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), there have been nearly 2 lakh farmer suicides since 1997. However, indebtedness is not the only reason for suicides. The suicides are a manifestation of the growing agrarian distress in India. It is clear from the current crisis, that the agrarian interest is marginalized in the national policy agenda today.
Over the years the economy of India had undergone a structural transformation due to which the share of agriculture has been declining. However the workforce employed in agriculture hasn’t decreased. Accordingly, in 2004-05, the share of agriculture in GDP was 20.2%, and yet the workforce employed in agriculture was still 56.5%. This structural dissimilarity means that there is a large difference in the productivity of workers in agriculture and in non-agriculture occupations, productivity of workers in agriculture being one fifth of those in non-agriculture.
Marginalization of peasantry:
This high burden of labour force has, in addition, been falling on a slowly contracting cultivable land area. Between 1960 and 2003, the number of holdings doubled from 51 million to 101 million, while the area operated declined from 133 million hectares to 108 million hectares. This has led to a sharp decline in the average size of the holding, leading to increasing number of small and marginal farmers. Hence, the proportion of marginal landholders has increased from 39.1% in 1960-61 to 71% in 2003, and among them they only operate 22.6% of the land. This continuing skewed pattern of land ownership reflects the lack of serious land reforms. Increasing marginalization forces the farmers into sharecropping and renting additional land. This leads to difficulties like insecurity of lease, increasing costs and inadequate returns from production, and difficulties in accessing credit.
Declining growth rates:
Growth rates of agriculture have been on the decline. The growth rate by GDP from agriculture fell from 3.08% during 1980-81 to 1990-91, to 2.57% during 1992-93 to 2005-06. This included a dip to 1.3% in 1999-2000 and even a negative growth of -2% in 2000-2001.
Declining profitability of agriculture:
The ratio of total prices received by the agricultural sector to the total prices paid by it...