An article titled Debt Woes Drive Thousands of Indian Farmers to Suicide sheds some light on this situation. Not mentioned in the article is the fact that there is a huge land grab going on in India. Big Ag wants the land and it’s getting it. Millions of small farming families are being displaced. They are moving to the urban areas. The ones who survive the transition are going from independent producers to dependent consumers. This is a tragedy of epic proportions.
Here are excerpts from the article (bold emphasis are mine):
On the last night of his life, the farmer walked into his dusty fields, choked down pesticide and waited to die.
He owed more that $1,000 to banks and moneylenders and he had told his wife that if the cotton harvest was bad this year, he would kill himself.
Crushed by debts most Westerners would deem inconsequential, farmers like Surpam killed themselves at a rate of 48 a day between 2002 and 2006—more than 17,500 a year, according to experts who have analyzed government statistics. At least 160,000 farmers have committed suicide since 1997
The epidemic dates to the 1990s, and is generally attributed to a toxic blend of slashed subsidies, tougher global competition, drought, predatory moneylenders and expensive genetically modified seeds.
Farmers and analysts say another blow was the introduction of genetically modified cotton seeds, notably St. Louis-based Monsanto Co.’s “Bt” seeds which are resistant to boll worms. The seeds can be more productive and have become standard in much of Maharashtra but can be three times more expensive that traditional seeds.
Fot the widows, left to tend the crops and raise the children, the suicides are personal calamities with roots not in macroeconomics, but in homegrown problems—impossible debts, the loss of ancestral land, rapacious money lenders.
Surpam’s widow, a stoic mother of three with a face toughened by the sun, blames her husband’s suicide on the loans he had taken over the past two years, his first taste of debt. He borrowed 25,000 rupees ($625) from a bank and 20,000 rupees $500) from private moneylenders to invest in his fields and to pay for his daughter’s wedding, she said.
“He used to say we owe money and if anyone comes looking for us, it would be dishonor,” said his wife, Sumitra, who learned only after his death on April 1 how much he owed.
Surpam’s three acres produced just $150 worth of cotton this year—not nearly enough to keep the moneylenders at bay.
Before Shanker Waghmere, 49, killed himself in 2005, “he kept talking about debts going up each passing day,” said his 35-year-old widow, Shantabair.
With night falling on her crops and her three children fluttering behind her, the widow said she hopes she’ll earn enough from this year’s harvest to pay off her husband’s debt.
She plans to buy a bunch of seeds she heard grows better cotton. She said she’ll pay for them with a loan from a moneylender.