Tuesday, September 19, 2006

On India's Despairing Farms, a Plague of Suicides

India’s economy may be soaring, but agriculture remains its Achilles’ heel, as food production, once India’s great pride, has failed to keep pace with the nation’s population growth in the last decade; "acute distress" cited by PM Singh.

As reported in the New York Times; Sept. 19, 2006

By Somini Sengupta

BHADUMARI, India -- Here in the center of India, on a gray Wednesday morning, a cotton farmer swallowed a bottle of pesticide and fell dead at the threshold of his small mud house.

The farmer, Anil Kondba Shende, 31, left behind a wife and two small sons, debts that his family knew about only vaguely and a soggy, ruined 3.5-acre patch of cotton plants that had been his only source of income.

Whether it was debt, shame or some other privation that drove Mr. Shende to kill himself rests with him alone. But his death was by no means an isolated one, and in it lay an alarming reminder of the crisis facing the Indian farmer.

Across the country in desperate pockets like this one, 17,107 farmers committed suicide in 2003, the most recent year for which government figures are available. Anecdotal reports suggest that the high rates are continuing.

Though the crisis has been building for years, it presents an increasingly thorny political challenge for Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. High suicide rates and rural despair helped topple the previous government two years ago and put Mr. Singh in power.

Changes brought on by 15 years of economic reforms have opened Indian farmers to global competition and given them access to expensive and promising biotechnology, but not necessarily opened the way to higher prices, bank loans, irrigation or insurance against pests and rain.

To read entire article, click: http://www.nytimes.com/2006/09/19/world/asia/19india.html?th&emc=th