SEHORE, India – About 70 percent of India’s rural population relies on agriculture to earn a living, but with droughts and monsoon rains threatening crops one way or the other, many farmers struggle, and some even resort to suicide.
Drought in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh has reduced many agricultural fields to dusty plains, where on Thursday more camels grazed on bushes than farmers tilled crops.
In a year plagued by drought, farmers have limited production possibilities and are left with little to sell. When rains are plentiful, farmers end up with excess production, and with a lack of storage facilities, some are forced into selling their produce at low prices.
A lack of infrastructure, such as warehouses and cold storage, makes the situation even more challenging for poorer farmers in India.
India is the world’s largest producer of pulses, milk and jute and the second largest in rice, wheat, fruit, vegetables and sugarcane production, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization.
“Agriculture still remains largely rain-fed (60 percent) and vulnerable to the vagaries of the monsoon. And so are the fates of millions of Indian farmers,” the FAO warned on its website.
The hardships of droughts, in addition to the rising costs of seeds, pesticides and fertilizers have burdened peasant farmers with mounting debts and led thousands of them to commit suicide.
According to data from the National Crime Records Bureau, 8,007 farmers or cultivators committed suicide in 2015, with bankruptcy or debt the main cause of farmer suicide that year.
The country’s Ministry of Home Affairs points to a range of causes of suicide among farmers, including the inability to pay back loans, rising debts, poor procurement rates of crops, government policies and crop failure due to monsoons.
In Majarmoi village, the family of Ramswaroop Lowanshi, including his six daughters, recently performed the funeral rituals for the 42-year-old farmer who committed suicide by consuming pesticide.
“He went to the field in the morning ... and later called up saying he is not feeling well. When family members rushed to the fields they found him lying on the ground and took him to the hospital where he died,” his nephew and brother told epa.
The dry fields have left most farmers in rural Madhya Pradesh jobless, with some waiting for the government to launch welfare programs.
Others work part time as construction site laborers or collect leaves from tendu trees, which they use to roll bidi cigarettes and can sell for 200 rupees ($3) per day.
Farmers’ unions are demanding urgent government attention for the issue because desperate peasants face the dilemma of paying back hefty loans often borrowed from private banks at high interest rates.