Farmer suicides rising, protect them from the vagaries of nature
According to the National Crime Records Bureau data, a total of 10,881 persons from the farming sector died by suicide in 2021—this includes farmers and farm labourers.
When Karnataka Chief Minister Siddaramaiah took deputy commissioners and CEOs of zilla panchayats to task on Tuesday over farmer suicides in the state, his anger was understandable. At least 251 farmers have taken their own lives between April this year and September 9. The number is as high as 1,219 when taken from April 2022, and according to one estimate, 11,000 Karnataka farmers have taken their lives in the 23 years between 1996 and 2019. This is part of a larger sombre story across India which, according to the National Crime Records Bureau data, saw a total of 10,881 persons from the farming sector dying by suicide in 2021—this includes farmers and farm labourers.
The main causes for farmer suicides are erratic monsoons, with deficit or excess rainfall causing crop loss or damage, high rates of interest charged by private moneylenders that affect farmers adversely, swindling by middlemen, and vicious debt traps. All this also leads to mental health issues and family problems. According to the Niti Aayog, in 2022-23, of the 21 crore hectares of sown area across India, 11.5 crore hectares had access to irrigation—54.76% against 47.80% in 2013-14.
However, although the share of irrigated land has increased over the decade, only about 19% of it is micro-irrigated with nutrients-assisted irrigation options like drip, sprinkler, spray, subsurface, and bubbler (drip-sprinkler combination) to ensure resilience of the crops. A vast majority of the farming population remains without these aids. Around 60% of India’s population works in the agricultural sector directly or indirectly and is mostly vulnerable to the vagaries of nature as well as the deficit or excess rainfall threatening to put paid to their hard work.
Various farmer welfare programmes exist, but what they need most is hand-holding in the application of tech for crop protection and sustenance. This should be done through technological, psychological and social counselling. Some justification is needed for Prime Minister Narendra Modi adding Jai Anusandhan (research) to former PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s Jai Jawan-Jai Kisan-Jai Vigyan (soldier-farmer-technology), with Jai Vigyan being an addition to Lal Bahadur Shastri’s famous slogan Jai Jawan-Jai Kisan from 1965. Research and technology need to be applied more widely to avoid loss and extend support to every farmer’s survival and happiness. After all, it’s not only the Army that marches on its stomach.