• The Ramaphosa Plan

    The president said on Friday that the work "starts now". He wasn't wrong, writes Pieter du Toit.

  • Stimulus recap

    Seven key points in the president's package of economic reforms and spending plans.

  • Supporting role

    Meet the members of President Cyril Ramaphosa's new 10-person advisory panel on land reform.

Loading...

Rains, debt drive Indian farmers to suicide

Mar 24 2014 12:27
An Indian woman cuts wheat on a hot summer afterno

An Indian woman cuts wheat on the outskirts of Meerut in Uttar Pradesh state, India . (Rajesh Kumar Singh, AP)

Related Articles

India hit by farm suicides after storms

France's Orange on suicide alert

The ruralisation factor

 

Mumbai - Unseasonal rains and hailstorms this month have damaged the winter-sown crops of millions of Indian farmers, but Rekha Garole lost more than others.

Her 42-year-old husband Santuka killed himself this month after hail devastated the wheat and chickpea crops that they had been counting on to repay a bank loan of 90 000 rupees ($1 500).

"He committed suicide to escape his debt burden," says Rekha, who met nearly a dozen political leaders in a week at her mud house in the Nanded district of western Maharashtra state but has yet to receive any financial aid.

Santuka, like other farmers in his village of Golegaon, prayed last year for bountiful rains to end two years of drought in the region.

Ample rainfall did come, but at the wrong time. In September, cloudbursts damaged soybean and sorghum crops that were ready to be harvested, forcing farmers like Santuka into debts that they could not pay due to the latest crop damage.

Millions of small Indian farmers are struggling to survive as erratic weather hits their only source of income. They are seeking government help to stay afloat until the next harvest, but bureaucrats are moving slowly to record crop losses.

Anger is mounting among affected farmers tired of hearing empty promises. Many have given up hope.

Nearly five dozen farmers in Maharashtra and the central state of Madhya Pradesh have committed suicide this month over debt worries, farmers' advocacy groups say.

This could spell trouble for the ruling Congress party in a five-week general election that starts on April 7, as the farmers' vote helped it retain power in 2009. Opinion polls suggest that Congress faces a heavy defeat.

"It will make the government more unpopular just before the elections," said Jaidev Dole, a political analyst based in the city of Aurangabad in Maharashtra.

"The farmers affected are unhappy with the government's response, and that can be reflected in votes. Opposition parties have already started to make this an election issue."

In Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra, nearly 3 million hectares of crops have been hit, Farm Minister Sharad Pawar said. Crops have been damaged in the northern states of Rajasthan and Punjab and in southern Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh to a lesser extent.

Orange, grape and mango farmers were the worst hit by the storms, along with wheat, rapeseed, chickpea and red gram.

The damage could force the government to slash production estimates for key winter-sown crops like rapeseed, chickpea and wheat, but the immediate worry would be vegetable supplies

Prices rise again

After moderating in recent weeks, vegetable prices have started to rise again as supplies have been disrupted by the rains. Double-digit food inflation contributed to the Congress party's defeat in key state elections last year.

Opposition parties, mainly the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) that is favourite to form the next government, are already cornering the government over farmer suicides and price rises.

Campaigning in the hail-hit areas, the BJP's candidate for prime minister, Narendra Modi, said: "Despite India being an agrarian economy, the government's wrong policies are forcing farmers to commit suicide."

The central government will provide 13.5bn rupees ($220m) to farmers hit by the precipitation in Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh, a government source said on Thursday.

Farmers' leaders say the aid is too little even to cover the cost of seeds and fertilisers.

"Farmers have taken loans from banks and private money lenders. With government help of a few thousand rupees, they can't even repay their debts," said Vijay Jawandhia, a farmers' leader from Maharashtra.

Any financial help comes too late for Rekha, who has two school-age children: "After a suicide everyone makes promises," she told Reuters by phone. "But the ones who commit suicide will never return."

Follow Fin24 on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and Pinterest

india  |  farms  |  suicide  |  debt
NEXT ON FIN24X

 
 
 

Read Fin24’s Comments Policy

24.com publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
0 comments
Comments have been closed for this article.
 

Company Snapshot

Money Clinic

Money Clinic
Do you have a question about your finances? We'll get an expert opinion.
Click here...

Voting Booth

What do you think of President Cyril Ramaphosa's economic stimulus plan?

Previous results · Suggest a vote

Loading...