Friday, July 21, 2006

Farmer suicides hit 10-year high as aid package from Indian PM falls short

Farmer suicides hit peak after PM’s aid package
Published: Friday, 21 July, 2006, 01:48 PM Doha Time

Manmohan Singh chairing the Prime Minister’s Council on Trade and Industry meeting in New Delhi yesterday
MUMBAI: The suicide rate of poverty-hit farmers in India’s main cotton belt has hit a decade high prompted by disappointment at a vaunted aid package by Premier Manmohan Singh, activists said yesterday.

Sixty farmers - including two fathers and their sons - have killed themselves so far this month crippled with debt and hit by falling prices for their cotton, according to a group working with farmers.

On July 1, Singh announced a Rs37.5bn relief package after a two-day tour of the Vidarbha region of western Maharashtra state. Maharashtra is also home to India’s richest city Mumbai.

More than 600 farmers killed themselves in Vidarbha in the 12 months ended June this year, hitting a peak of more than 70 in March, according to Kishor Tiwari, of the Vidarbha People’s Protest Forum.

But the rate has risen since his visit due to disillusionment at the package, which failed to solve immediate problems of debt-ridden farmers, he said.

The rate is the highest in the last 10 years the group has kept a detailed record of suicides, said Tiwari.

"People are very disappointed because they had high hopes. He didn’t address the core issues," he said.

As part of the package, Singh announced the waiver of farmer interest payments to state-owned banks but failed to do enough to address the issue of private money-lenders used by 90% of farmers, according to activists.

Some of the money-lenders, who include local politicians and businessmen, charge up to 120% annual interest from the farmers.

Federal government officials earlier this year said more than 8,900 farmers have committed suicide since 2001 in four states hardest hit by the ongoing agricultural crisis, including 980 in Maharashtra.

The number has been dismissed as too low by activists and, according to a state government-backed report, more than 4,100 farmers ended their lives in Maharashtra in 2004.

Its author, Srijit Mishra, said Singh’s two-day visit showed the government was serious about addressing the problem but more had to be done. His report said about one-third of loans came from non-official sources.

"Something has to be done with the moneylenders. The ground level situation seems to be getting worse." Activists had blamed the high cost of genetically modified seeds for adding to the Indian farmers’ indebtedness but costs have fallen in 2006.

The Supreme Court last month backed investigators who said US biotech giant Monsanto’s Indian operation was charging too much for its cotton seeds and said it had to drop its prices.

Agriculture provides the livelihoods of around 60% of the country’s 1.1bn population and accounts for a quarter of India’s GDP. – AFP

No comments: