With farm distress becoming a major political issue, farmer suicides and the agrarian crisis have come to haunt the government. As happens before every election, this time it is the specter of farmer suicides which has led to the perpetration of a lot of misinformation in the public discourse, with the tendency of politically vested interests to look only at the farmer distress instances during the term of the prevailing government so that they can pin blame on it. In fact, however, the present agrarian crisis is the result of a complete commercialization of agriculture and a sell-out of the farm to the so-called ‘liberal’ policies, because of which farmers are now compelled to take their own lives.
The farmer suicides that we witness at present are not a new phenomenon, but have been happening in increasing numbers since the 1990s, when the Indian government embarked on a policy of deliberate tweaking of government policy to reduce the share of agriculture in the Indian economy, in line with the prescriptions of institutions like the World Bank and its commercial-utilitarian economic policies designed to buy out developing countries. In fact, the highest number of 18,241 suicides were recorded in 2004, a drought year – when India’s economic trajectory was on an upswing. The lowest, since 1996, were recorded in 2016. (Bera 2017).
Not just this, but the farmers kept taking their lives even when India’s GDP numbers were at their peak during some other years between 1990 to 2013. From 2014 onwards, an erratic monsoon compounded the problem by playing havoc in the form of unseasonal floods and droughts, while the present government, listening too closely to the fixed coterie of ‘liberal’ bureaucrats, a legacy of past governments, did not change the agricultural system.
The successive governments have completely misdiagnosed the problem. They assumed that lower crop productivity, higher cost of production and inefficient irrigation practices were responsible for farmer distress, missing the fact that farmers were taking their lives even in states like Punjab which had more than 90% irrigation assured area and extremely high yields of wheat and rice. The simple reason for farmer suicides is poverty and the debt trap created by the deliberately hostile and commercial practices pursued by the government, in nexus with large corporations and West-funded bureaucrats.
The government deliberately forced farmers to move to the cultivation of cash crops and monocultures (especially Bt Cotton), which not only consumed more water and required more pesticides but also lowered crop productivity. In addition, price volatility (due to global factors and WTO politics) ensured that even after a bumper harvest, farmers were forced to sell their produce at throwaway prices.
The result of these dangerous forays of the government was a reduction in farmers’ incomes, pushing them into the debt trap and poverty. In the wake of the liberalization reforms of 1991, India’s agricultural sector suffered the most. It was opened up to the global markets and became exposed to global commodity price volatility, besides coming under the purview of WTO regulations. The WTO regulations – an unresolved issue since the last three decades – prevented developing countries like India from procuring farm produce at subsidized rates, while developed countries heavily subsidized their own farmers. This led to a lot of dumping of agricultural produce in developing countries and exposed their poor farmers to regular price crashes, irrespective of bumper harvests.
In parallel to this, the Indian government itself played havoc with the fortunes of the farmers for the sake of giving a fillip to commercial interests, both in the field of agriculture and at the cost of agriculture to other businesses. Successive governments have been keen to deny a rightful income to the farmer and any talk of providing financial relief raises a hue and cry and is called ‘bad economics’ – this is despite the fact that an estimated total of 3 lakh crore farm loans that ought to be waived is still less than the 4 lakh crore bailout package that the telecom industry alone is seeking (D. Sharma 2017), forget about other sectors of corporate debt. It is clear that farmers have been deprived of their rightful income in order to benefit corporate and other vested interests.
Not only this, but successive governments have also made fashionable the culture of providing credit and loan waivers to the farmers instead of income. The entire agrarian crisis which was of the making of the government and corporate interests was blamed on the farmers.
And even in this credit culture, things were not free from the pervasion of utilitarianism and corruption. After 1993, the government manipulated the scope of agricultural credit received from banks, including a lot more besides the traditional direct finance given to cultivators, including even corporate borrowings and infrastructure project funding under agrarian credit. How is it fair that power sector loans are classified as agrarian credit? Yet, this is precisely what the previous government had done for many sectors. The so-called do-gooder MNCs and other agri-business companies began to corner a major share of these loans, which should have been reserved only for the farmer.
Cultivators can hardly afford a loan of more than 2-10 lakh rupee in size. Yet, the loan bracket of up to 2 lakh rupees in agricultural credit has declined immensely – 82.3 per cent in 1990-91 to 44.7 per cent in 2010-11 – showing the small quantity of money that is actually going to the farmers. On the other hand, agricultural loans of 10 crore rupees and above have increased sharply during the same period, showing that commercial interests have been cornering the farm loans (B. P. Sharma 2015).
Despite the fact that farmers have not got their due share of agricultural credit, and, are stuck in a debt trap and poverty, the recent moves by the BJP state governments to waive farm loans was decried as credit indiscipline by corporate interests. Even though borrowings by companies constitute nearly half of the farm sector loans in several states, they are being counted as farm loans, instead of being relegated to the realm of corporate loans, where they belong, since these companies are out here only to do business and make profits, while the agrarian crisis in the country keeps getting worse.
While this is one aspect of the play of utilitarian spirit in destroying India’s agriculture sector, a more recent phenomenon – and much worse than existing forms of commercialism – has been the opening given to Genetically Modified seeds in form of Bt Cotton and the heavy lobbying by profit racketeers.
Dr. Krishan Bir Chaudhary, president of Bharatiya Krishak Samaj explains how “international racketeers” operate. He explains, “It doesn’t matter which government there is, a group of International racketeers funded by corporate money place themselves in keys positions… They have links from the smallest to the highest corridors of power, the PMO and Niti Aayog included”. These people have mislead the Prime Minister because of pressure from corporations such as Monsanto/Bayer. He has also demanded a CBI inquiry to uncover which pro-GM scientists, bureaucrats and others are on the payroll of these corporations, so they can be exposed as traitors. As Monsanto illegally extracted Rs.7000 crore in royalties from India, its agents and lobbyists would have easily earned not less than a few hundred crores in kickbacks – for working against the interests of India (Singh 2017).
These racketeers sought to secure approvals for GM Mustard and other GM seeds as well, besides illegal mixing of GM seeds in edible oils imported for our consumption. The latter – not the kind of information media would share – is particularly damning.
While Bt Cotton was introduced as a non-food crop, it soon became a major edible oil crop in some states as its seeds were used to extract edible oil which was mixed with other edible oils, in the absence of strict food regulation laws. This is despite the fact that Bt Cotton is most poisonous to the health of living organisms. For instance, when Bt Cotton waste was burnt as fuel, the smoke was experienced as poisonous, and when it was fed to cattle, it resulted in abortions, still births, and reduced milk yields (Garg 2017).
Despite this evidence and the fact that countries in Europe stood firm and stopped Monsanto from lobbying for GM products, in India, the government is being misled to introduce policies that will be fatal to both health and agriculture. In the present scenario, GM food has contributed greatly to farmer suicides. Since 1991, more than 3,00,000 farmers have committed suicide, while millions are living under conditions similar to those which propelled these farmers to suicide. According to environmentalist, Vandana Shiva, “Nearly 85% of the more than 300,000 farmers suicides are in the cotton areas where Monsanto established a 99% monopoly.” The suicide economy of Monsanto is especially visible in Vidharba region of Maharashtra, which sees the highest number of suicides at 4000 suicides per year, and is also the region with the highest acreage of Monsanto’s Bt Cotton.
Things have come to such a pass because the commercial mentality and the utilitarian state-business nexus forced farmers to shift from diverse cropping practices to monoculture. Thus, instead of growing diverse pulses, millets, oilseeds etc., farmers were asked to shift to cotton monocultures (especially Bt Cotton), which increased the chances of crop failure.
Declining farm incomes due to deliberate conditions created by the nexus of politicians and business interests have resulted in an average farm household not earning more than 1700 to 3000 rupees per month from farming activities, while supplementing their income by working in MNREGA, adding up to a monthly income of just about 6000 rupees. Most of this income goes into buying seeds – in case of Bt Cotton, since the seeds are patented, the farmers have to buy new seeds before every harvest, pushing them further into poverty – and in other input costs of production. The farmer is left with barely 1700 rupees at the end of it all, and unable to make ends meet. As a result, more than half the farmers go to bed hungry, while more than 70% of them would preferably quit agriculture altogether.
Indeed, making them quit agriculture is what the present and previous sets of bureaucrats always wanted. The intentions of these bureaucrats have always been suspect. Like their predecessors during the 1990s, the present set also wants to walk the path laid down by the likes of the World Bank (whose prescription of moving 400 million people from rural to urban areas has been followed blindly by all governments), and want to kill India’s agricultural sector, so that more people do not take to farming, while existing ones have no option but to urbanize. NITI Aayog’s intellectuals and a former RBI Governor have even gone on record saying that “the biggest reform will be when population from agriculture is moved to the urban areas. The Confederation of India Industry (CII) on the other hand has been seeking cheaper labour for infrastructure which can come only if farmers are forced out.” (D. Sharma 2016).
In this worsening mire of the farm crisis where vested utilitarian interests deliberately won’t allow a solution, even the good intentions of PM Modi are not helping, since he is being misled by the western-backed and funded intelligentsia and bureaucrats within his own team.
The long-standing farm crisis and the resultant farmer suicides are one of the clearest instances of the extent to which the present commercial system has degenerated. The facts before us – and how the crisis came about – are indisputable and incriminate the role of blind profit-making and unwise space given to external interests that have sought to destroy the economy of the country, through the mismanagement of agriculture.
Bera, Sayantan. 2017. Livemint. July 27. Accessed February 24, 2018. http://www.livemint.com/Politics/aLxCMG7keV44dNzSt4J8XK/Farm-suicides-in-2016-lowest-in-two-decades.html.
Garg, Vipesh. 2017. “A scientific fraud on Indian farmers.” Swadeshi Patrika, July: 15-18.
Sharma, Bhagwati Prakash. 2015. “Declining access of real farmers.” Swadeshi Patrika, May: 6-8.
Sharma, Devinder. 2016. “2015 was a bad year for Indian agriculture.” Swadeshi Patrika, February.
—. 2017. “Farm Protest Rages Across India.” Swadeshi Patrika, July: 28-29.
Singh, Inder Shekhar. 2017. “The GM Mustard Crossroad.” Swadeshi Patrika, July: 19-21.