Tuesday, September 05, 2006

AFP-Indian farmer suicide rate soars


Monday September 4, 05:39 PM

Indian farmer suicide rate soars

Photo : AFP
MUMBAI (AFP) - Farmer suicides in India's main cotton belt have reached their highest ever level with 216 dead since premier Manmohan Singh announced a major relief effort in July, community leaders said.

The monthly death toll hit more than 100 for the first time in August and suicides are continuing at three a day among farmers hit hard by rising debt and falling cotton prices.

Tallies compiled by activists show 767 farmers killed themselves in the last 12 months in the Vidarbha region in western Maharashtra state, with many setting themselves alight or drinking pesticide.

Activists say only a few hundred farmers have been helped by Singh's 37.5-billion rupee (835 million dollar) relief package announced after a two-day visit to Vidarbha.

"High optimism was created but the package has not worked and it's had an effect on farmers' suicides by adding to their distress," said Kishor Tiwari, of the Vidarbha People's Protest Forum.

Indian government officials said earlier this year more than 8,900 farmers had killed themselves in four Indian states since 2001, a figure dismissed as too low by activists.

Last month, the government said 43 million of India's near 89 million farmer households were in debt.

The opening up of the Indian economy to low-price foreign cotton and excess global supply has hit farmers who lack education and opportunities to retrain, said activists. Costs are 50 percent higher than the market value of their crops, said Tiwari.

As part of the package, Singh announced the waiver of farmer interest payments to state-owned banks but private moneylending with rates of annual interest of up to 120 percent are rampant.

Agriculture provides a livelihood for around 60 percent of the country's 1.1 billion population and accounts for a quarter of India's GDP.

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