Desperately seeking solutions

Why are Indian cotton farmers committing suicide? And what can be done to help them?

Marco Visscher | July/Aug 2006 issue
On January 10 of this year, Jamuna Ramdas Ade decided she’d had enough. The cotton farmer from the Indian state of Maharashtra was so deep in debt that she swallowed a mouthful of monocrotophos, an insecticide so poisonous it is banned in Europe and the United States.
This sad story began seven years ago. Jumuna’s husband Ramdas became paralyzed and she assumed responsibility for their 2.8-hectare (7-acre) cotton field. When the harvest proved disappointing and the costs of farm chemicals rose, she sought help at her local co-operative bank. But the bank declined to give her a loan because her husband had failed to repay a previous loan for 10,000 rupees (170 euros; $220 U.S.). So Jamuna went to local moneylenders, known for charging excessive interest rates. She found one who would loan her 5,000 rupees but the crop was poor again last year and her debt had increased to 50,000 rupees. She had no idea how to come up with such an enormous sum of money.
Jamuna’s problem is familiar to many Indian cotton farmers. In Vidarbha—the region in the state of Maharashtra referred to as the cotton belt, which is where Jamuna comes from—more than 2,300 cotton farmers have committed suicide in the last six years, according to the International Herald Tribune (April 19, 2006). However, the government—which compensates family members of farmers who commit suicide—says the number is much lower. The cases usually involve farmers whose land has been repossessed by the bank or another lender. This often means they were relegated to the insecure position of day labourer with an attendant decrease in social status.
The wave of suicides has reached a crescendo this year. Maharashtra is notorious for its poor soil fertility and dry climate. Farmers were compensated for the dismal conditions until the end of last year when their subsidy was scrapped. Now there is no 20-percent bonus added the minimum support price—the lowest price the crop fetches—and no bonus at the beginning of the season for the purchase of new seeds. On top of that, water has gotten more expensive.
Cotton covers five percent of India’s farmland, but uses 54 percent of all pesticides. In a shocking cover story in the Indian weekly Down to Earth (March 31, 2006), agriculture research-institute affiliate Y.S. Ramakrishna says: “Since the advent of the green revolution [by which he means the large-scale spread of farm chemicals in India during the 1960s] we have been surviving on a high pesticide dosage. We adopted alien varieties, which brought new diseases and to control them we resorted to excessive use of pesticides.” In other words: Diseases and plagues became immune to the poisons, which meant new, more expensive chemicals were needed. As a result, the costs for cotton farmers rose—and continue to rise—while the quality of the soil and harvest declined.
Forces outside India pose yet another obstacle. Governments influence the price of their own cotton, primarily through subsidies. The United States, China and the European Union provide the most subsidies: $3.1 billion euros ($4 billion U.S.), 1.2 billion euros ($1.5 billion U.S.) and 700 million euros ($900 million U.S.) respectively. The subsidies enable cotton farmers to sell large amounts of the crop for lower prices—lower than their production costs. This upsets the international trade balance, much to the frustration of the Indian and African cotton farmers who receive no subsidies.
But there may be hope that other farmers can avoid the fate of Jamuna Ramdas Ade. The government of the state of Punjab—in the north of India where cotton is an important crop—is making plans to help the cotton farmers, reports the national Indian newspaper The Telegraph (April 23, 2006). In April, Punjab’s authorities asked the prime minister to develop a strategy to prevent further suicides. They propose, among other things, that loans be cancelled when farmers have paid as much in interest as the amount of the original loan. They also want to institute a commission for debt forgiveness in each district that can settle differences between farmers and moneylenders. Finally, they believe moneylenders should be registered so their interest rates can be monitored, preventing money laundering.
Clean clothes
Want to buy clothing that uses mainly organic cotton and offers workers better conditions? Start here:
· American Apparel, expansive collection of T-shirts, pants, sweaters, shirts and jackets, http://www.americanapparel.net
· Howies, www.howies.co.uk
· Imps%amp%Elfs, children’s clothing, www.imps-elfs.nl
· Kuyichi, jeans and shirts from Solidaridad, www.kuyichi.com
· Twice Shy, T-shirts with strong, ironic statements, www.twice-shy.com

 

Solution News Source

Desperately seeking solutions

Why are Indian cotton farmers committing suicide? And what can be done to help them?

Marco Visscher | July/Aug 2006 issue
On January 10 of this year, Jamuna Ramdas Ade decided she’d had enough. The cotton farmer from the Indian state of Maharashtra was so deep in debt that she swallowed a mouthful of monocrotophos, an insecticide so poisonous it is banned in Europe and the United States.
This sad story began seven years ago. Jumuna’s husband Ramdas became paralyzed and she assumed responsibility for their 2.8-hectare (7-acre) cotton field. When the harvest proved disappointing and the costs of farm chemicals rose, she sought help at her local co-operative bank. But the bank declined to give her a loan because her husband had failed to repay a previous loan for 10,000 rupees (170 euros; $220 U.S.). So Jamuna went to local moneylenders, known for charging excessive interest rates. She found one who would loan her 5,000 rupees but the crop was poor again last year and her debt had increased to 50,000 rupees. She had no idea how to come up with such an enormous sum of money.
Jamuna’s problem is familiar to many Indian cotton farmers. In Vidarbha—the region in the state of Maharashtra referred to as the cotton belt, which is where Jamuna comes from—more than 2,300 cotton farmers have committed suicide in the last six years, according to the International Herald Tribune (April 19, 2006). However, the government—which compensates family members of farmers who commit suicide—says the number is much lower. The cases usually involve farmers whose land has been repossessed by the bank or another lender. This often means they were relegated to the insecure position of day labourer with an attendant decrease in social status.
The wave of suicides has reached a crescendo this year. Maharashtra is notorious for its poor soil fertility and dry climate. Farmers were compensated for the dismal conditions until the end of last year when their subsidy was scrapped. Now there is no 20-percent bonus added the minimum support price—the lowest price the crop fetches—and no bonus at the beginning of the season for the purchase of new seeds. On top of that, water has gotten more expensive.
Cotton covers five percent of India’s farmland, but uses 54 percent of all pesticides. In a shocking cover story in the Indian weekly Down to Earth (March 31, 2006), agriculture research-institute affiliate Y.S. Ramakrishna says: “Since the advent of the green revolution [by which he means the large-scale spread of farm chemicals in India during the 1960s] we have been surviving on a high pesticide dosage. We adopted alien varieties, which brought new diseases and to control them we resorted to excessive use of pesticides.” In other words: Diseases and plagues became immune to the poisons, which meant new, more expensive chemicals were needed. As a result, the costs for cotton farmers rose—and continue to rise—while the quality of the soil and harvest declined.
Forces outside India pose yet another obstacle. Governments influence the price of their own cotton, primarily through subsidies. The United States, China and the European Union provide the most subsidies: $3.1 billion euros ($4 billion U.S.), 1.2 billion euros ($1.5 billion U.S.) and 700 million euros ($900 million U.S.) respectively. The subsidies enable cotton farmers to sell large amounts of the crop for lower prices—lower than their production costs. This upsets the international trade balance, much to the frustration of the Indian and African cotton farmers who receive no subsidies.
But there may be hope that other farmers can avoid the fate of Jamuna Ramdas Ade. The government of the state of Punjab—in the north of India where cotton is an important crop—is making plans to help the cotton farmers, reports the national Indian newspaper The Telegraph (April 23, 2006). In April, Punjab’s authorities asked the prime minister to develop a strategy to prevent further suicides. They propose, among other things, that loans be cancelled when farmers have paid as much in interest as the amount of the original loan. They also want to institute a commission for debt forgiveness in each district that can settle differences between farmers and moneylenders. Finally, they believe moneylenders should be registered so their interest rates can be monitored, preventing money laundering.
Clean clothes
Want to buy clothing that uses mainly organic cotton and offers workers better conditions? Start here:
· American Apparel, expansive collection of T-shirts, pants, sweaters, shirts and jackets, http://www.americanapparel.net
· Howies, www.howies.co.uk
· Imps%amp%Elfs, children’s clothing, www.imps-elfs.nl
· Kuyichi, jeans and shirts from Solidaridad, www.kuyichi.com
· Twice Shy, T-shirts with strong, ironic statements, www.twice-shy.com

 

Solution News Source

SIGN UP

TO GET A Free DAILY DOSE OF OPTIMISM


We respect your privacy and take protecting it seriously. Privacy Policy