Burning Issues

[Burning Issue] Farmers’ suicide in India



  • The national catastrophe of farmers committing suicide since the 1990s, often by drinking pesticides is attributed to their inability to repay loans mostly taken from landlords and banks.
  • The recent data released by NCRB show a very marginal decline in the suicide rate compared to last year signifying the sorry state of Indian agriculture.

Farmers distress: Not a decadal phenomenon

  • Historical records relating to frustration, revolts and high mortality rates among farmers in India, particularly cash crop farmers, date back to the 19th century. However, suicides due to the same were rare.
  • The high land taxes of the 1870s, payable in cash regardless of the effects of frequent famines on farm output or productivity, combined with colonial protection of money lenders and landowner rights, contributed to widespread frustration among cotton and other farmers.
  • However, in those days, starvation related deaths far exceeded those by suicide, the latter being officially classified under “injuries”.

NCRB Stats on Farmers Suicide

  • In 2017, 10,655 people involved in agriculture committed suicide in India, according to data released January 2, 2020, by the National Crime Record Bureau (NCRB).
  • NCRB had released the 2017 crime data last October 2019 but held back information on suicides.

Highlights by NCRB

  • A total of 10,349 farmers and agricultural labourers committed suicide in 2018, a marginal dip from the 10,655 cases in the year before.
  • Out of 5,763 farmer/cultivator suicides, a total of 5,457 were male and 306 were female during 2018.
  • Among those who took their lives, 5,955 were farmers/cultivators and 4,700 agricultural labourers — both lower than in 2016.
  • The number of women farmers committing suicide, however, jumped to 480 in 2017 from 275 in ’16.
  • In 2016, 6270 farmers killed themselves, down from 8,007 in 2015, while 5,109 farmhands committed suicide, up from 4,595.

Statewise data

  • In 2018, Maharashtra accounted for the highest share in farm-related suicides at 34.7%, followed by Karnataka at 23.2%, Telangana 8.8%, Andhra Pradesh 6.4% and Madhya Pradesh at 6.3%.
  • In 2017, the most number of farm suicides were reportedly in Maharashtra (34.7 per cent), followed by Karnataka (20.3 per cent), Madhya Pradesh (9 per cent), Telangana (8 per cent) and Andhra Pradesh (7.7 per cent).
  • The trend is quite similar to that of 2016.
  • In 2015 too Maharashtra tops in farmers suicides followed by Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh in 2016.
  • West Bengal, Odisha, Nagaland, Manipur, Mizoram, Uttarakhand, Chandigarh, Dadra and Nagar Haveli, Daman and Diu, Delhi, Lakshadweep and Puducherry reported zero suicides.

 Causes of Farmers Suicide

  • There is no consensus on what the main causes might be but studies show suicide victims are motivated by more than one cause however the primer reasons being the inability to repay loans.
  • Major causes reportedly are bankruptcy/indebtedness, problems in the families, crop failure, illness and alcohol/substance abuse.
  • Most of the suicides have occurred in areas of cash crops like cotton and sugarcane, which is high input, high output gambling, not based on the principle of sustained and resilient high yield.

Case of Maharashtra

  • A 2012 study in rural Vidarbha (Maharashtra) was held to qualitatively rank the expressed causes among farming families who had lost someone to suicide.
  • The expressed reasons in order of importance behind farmer suicides were – debt, alcohol addiction, environment, low produce prices, stress and family responsibilities, apathy, poor irrigation, increased cost of cultivation, private money lenders, use of chemical fertilizers and crop failure.
  • In other words, debt to stress and family responsibilities as reasons were significantly higher than fertilizers and crop failure.
  • Other causes attributed are insufficient or risky credit systems, the difficulty of farming semi-arid regions, poor agricultural income, absence of alternative income opportunities, a downturn in the urban economy which forced non-farmers into farming, and the absence of suitable counselling services.

Other causes

  • Disguised unemployment on farms remains high. Fragmentation of land holdings has left far too many farmers with farms that are too small to be remunerative.
  • Low access to credit, irrigation and technology worsens their ability to make a comfortable living. A tenth of our farmers are landless.
  • They use rented land, but the inadequacies of land-leasing mechanisms make it difficult for them to raise production.

Latent causes of suicide

  • Since most discussions and parleys on suicides are overtaken by issues of crop failures, rising debts, new farming techniques, the psychological aspect is largely ignored.
  • One of the major causes behind suicidal intent is depression, found the researchers.
  • It needs to be understood that at times a farmer under a debt of Rs 2 lakh shows a tendency to end his life, while another under a debt of Rs 10 lakh does not.

Flawed preventive measures

  • Irrigation reaches less than half of India’s overall farmland, a picture that has not changed much over the past decade, and more than 60% of our farmers are susceptible to rainfall anomalies.
  • Rain-fed farming yields are typically less than half those of irrigated farmland.
  • Though India has caught up with global levels of fertilizer use, this is neither efficient nor environmentally sustainable. Both add to the cost of cultivation.
  • Research on high-yielding crops has plateaued after an initial burst during the Green Revolution and farmers have to resort to patented seeds to draw more out of their scanty acres.
  • Initiatives like the eNAM are helping integrate the farmers’ produce directly with the market, however, cutting the role of intermediaries is still lagging behind.

Enough with appeasement

  • Loan waivers instead of restructuring, re-investment measures are disguised pullbacks on govt. initiative to double farmer’s income by 2020.
  • The subsequent governments have focused only on credit and loan facilitation rather than income, productivity and farmers prosperity.
  • Our approach of handling farmer indebtedness and farmer suicides has been appeasement politics like the recent move by the Maharashtra, Punjab and UP government to waive off thousands of crore worth of loans.
  • Surprisingly this comes at a time when agricultural yield is expected to be better in the wake of a good monsoon.

Need of the hour: Psychological assistance

  • The study suggested roping in psychologists and counsellors on various issues.
  • They included battling depressive ruminations, suicidal ideations, negative cognitions, hopelessness, helplessness.
  • It aimed at recognising and managing stressors like financial distress, relationship problems, and enhancing psychological resources through emotional well being, and mindfulness.

Model of 7’s

  • The researchers developed a ‘7D’ model of triggering and confounding factors and a ‘7R’ model of preventive and protecting factors to deal with the problem of farmer suicides.

‘7D’ model

It encapsulates:

  1. Drugs,
  2. Debt,
  3. Disease,
  4. Disputes,
  5. Depression,
  6. Disrepute and
  7. Death

 ‘7R’ model

It looks at the prevention of suicides. It consists:

  1. Remunerative agriculture,
  2. Resilience building,
  3. Rational expenditure,
  4. Reassurance through connectivity,
  5. Righteous conduct,
  6. Religious support and
  7. Responsible reporting

Way Forward

  • With years of policy failures, it can be concluded that there is no single sure-shot method to reduce the burden on our farmers.
  • Information technology promises to improve weather forecasting, crop identification as well as damage control, soil health monitoring, and mapping of available water resources.
  • Improvements in marketing and logistics can significantly raise the share that cultivators get of the money people pay for their food.
  • The govt. is using technology to connect farmers to a nationwide e-market, but the states need to amend their antiquated farm produce marketing laws that have squeezed farmers’ earnings.
  • An old problem of price signals failing to adjust demand and supply may also need fixing.
  • For agricultural incomes to rise, reforms, rather than cash transfers, loan waivers and the like, are the way ahead.


  • The government, in consultation with various stakeholders, should come up with effective and long-term measures to reduce farmer indebtedness, improve crop yield, manage water resources efficiently and make alternate income sources to farmers.
  • Along with subsidies, increased farm profits, the focus should also be on resilience building and problem-solving skills of farming families.
  • In suicide-prone states, agricultural institutes and scientists should start distributing seeds of resilience, tolerance and contentment among farmers, suggested researchers.



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