Question mark on development priorities by Maryam Yasmin (July 09, 2007)

The suicide of thousands of farmers around the country tells revealing tales of our development priorities. We may be experiencing an economic boom, but since 1997 more than 25,000 farmers have killed themselves, mostly by consuming pesticides.

Farmers are being pushed to suicide with rising debts due to deregulation of inputs like seeds, chemical fertilisers and pesticides. Farmers have fallen in debt because of the combination of high farming costs, high-yield seeds and pesticides sold by multinationals and lack of remunerative prices for their produce. American seed companies, encouraged by the Union government, have entered India’s rural areas, bringing new risks for farmers drowning in debt.

India’s GDP is rising, but agriculture remains vulnerable. The source of livelihood of hundreds of millions of people remains uncertain. Agriculture in India provides nearly 600 million direct and 200 million indirect jobs, according to a government report.

Before the advent of globalisation farmers went in for low-yield and low-risk farming. Even if their crops failed they didn’t sink into debt. They managed to survive on meager incomes. But their decision to go in for high-yield crops with resultant high cost of farming has made their condition precarious. Trapped in debt, farmers often see no way out but to die.

Drought has added to their woes (irrigation is too expensive for these farmers and the government often does not help). There are about 455 million acres of land being cultivated in India, but only about one-third of it is covered by irrigation.

Food grain production has failed to keep pace with the nation’s population growth in the last decade. The Green Revolution of 1960s and 1970s dramatically improved yields. India achieved not only self-sufficiency in food grains, but became a grain-exporting nation. In 2006, however, for the first time since Green Revolution the country had to import wheat and will again have to import food grains in 2007. While farmers struggle to survive agricultural production cannot meet the demands of the rising population. One of the ironies is that the farmers, who produce food for us with their hard work do not have enough food for themselves. That is a great question mark on our development policies.

Maryam Yasmin

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