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Vulnerable section, Governance and Farm related issues

  • Published
    5th Dec, 2023
Context

According to the latest NCRB data, one farmer/farm labourer dies by suicide every hour in India.

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More on data and findings

An emerging and worrying trend from the NCRB data was that deaths by suicide of agricultural labourers was higher than cultivators.

Deaths by suicide of those involved in farming continued to increase in 2022. Some 11,290 such suicide cases were reported from across the country last year.

This shows an increase of 3.7 per cent from 2021, when 10,281 deaths were reported. It is an increase of 5.7 per cent when compared with 2020 figures.

The figures from 2022 indicate that at least one farmer died by suicide every hour in India. In fact, farmers’ suicide deaths have been showing an increasing trend since 2019.

 Deaths by suicide of agricultural labourers — those depending on daily wages from farming activities — was higher than farmers/cultivators. Among the 11,290 persons engaged in farming, at least 53 per cent (6,083) of those who died by suicide were agricultural labourers.

This is significant because over the years, the dependence of an average agricultural household for its income has been increasing on wages from farming rather than crop production.

This was highlighted in the 77th round of the National Sample Survey, Land and Livestock Holdings of Households and Situation Assessment of Agricultural Households, released in 2021.

The Survey had found that the highest income for a farming household was Rs 4,063, which came from wages in return for serving as agricultural labour. This was followed by livestock and then cultivation, which saw a steep decline from 48 per cent in 2013 to 38 per cent in 2019.

Overall, farmers’ incomes have not increased much. The Survey, which is the most recent official data, showed that the monthly income in 2019 was only Rs 10,218 per month. It was Rs 6,426 in 2012-13.

Highest farmer suicides 

Maharashtra saw the highest suicides of 4,248 farmers and farm hands. Not only was this number the highest, the state contributed to 38 per cent of all deaths by suicide cases of those involved in agriculture. The second-highest number of cases were recorded from Karnataka (2,392), followed by Andhra Pradesh (917), Tamil Nadu (728), and Madhya Pradesh (641).

However, Uttar Pradesh saw the highest increase in number of suicides among all states — a 42.13 per cent rise, when compared with 2021. The second-highest increase was in Chhattisgarh (31.65 per cent). Andhra Pradesh, while recording the third-highest number of cases, actually reported a decrease of 16 per cent from its 2021 number. Similarly, Kerala showed a decline of 30 per cent.

Climate link 

Climate change has increased the frequency and coverage of drought in India and research has established a link between suicides among India’s agricultural workforce and climate change-related disasters.

In 2020-2022, nearly two-thirds of the country was drought-prone, according to the UN Convention to Combat Desertification. Meanwhile, a paper that came out in May 2023 had found that farmer suicides have been consistently higher in years with a rainfall deficit.

In the beginning of 2022, a scorching heatwave caused an abnormal increase in temperatures during harvest time in April-May. This led to widespread crop loss, particularly of wheat.

A report by the Indian Council of Agricultural Research said the heatwave had impacted wheat yield, fruits, vegetables and animals in at least nine states in the country.

The paper, Urgent preventative action for climate-related suicides in rural India, analysed the association between how far rainfall deviated from normal levels and the number of farmers dying by suicide.

Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh reported 62 per cent, 44 per cent and 76 per cent of land as drought-prone respectively and also reported high suicide rates among farmers.

Analysis spanning 2014-15 to 2020-21 for multiple states showed a negative correlation between suicide rates and rainfall deficit, emphasizing the vulnerability of agricultural economies to climate variations. Indicating that the suicide rate is consistently higher in years with a rainfall deficit.

The answer to why some states despite seeing high crop damage due to deficient rainfall or floods do not record high farmer suicide cases, could also be found in the study. It demonstrated that social protection programmes like Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Scheme (MGNREGS) could effectively limit climate vulnerability in economies that largely depend on agriculture or seasonal work.

 States with high percentages of drought-prone land, such as Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, and Chhattisgarh, reported elevated suicide rates among farmers. Social protection programs like the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS) were identified as effective measures to mitigate climate vulnerability in economies dependent on agriculture or seasonal work.

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