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Farmer suicides on the rise in India
The pressures of debt and crop failure have led to an alarming rate of suicides among Indian farmers, as Richard Lindell reports.

The monsoon season is about to hit India and millions of farmers are making their yearly gamble on the rains.

It's a stressful time with the threat of crop failure and crippling debt hanging over rural villages.

Such is the pressure that an estimated 250,000 farmers have committed suicide in India over the past 15 years.

India correspondent, Richard Lindell, filed this report from Vidharba, one of the worst affected regions.
Transcript
RICHARD LINDELL, REPORTER: Vidharba is a region in crisis. The months of May and June are hot and dry, and a time of despair for cotton growers.

Most are now contemplating their yearly gamble on the coming monsoon, but for some the prospect of going further into debt is too much.

On average, in this area alone, a former commits suicide every eight hours, a figure that spikes at this time of year.

Ram Das Kishan Dhale took his own life on the first of May. He was the sole bread winner for his wife, three children and elderly parents.

KISHAN ANAND RAO DHALE, FATHER (Translation): He was a good son. He looked after us. He looked after the family. He was a quiet person and shouldered the burden of the entire family.

RICHARD LINDELL: That burden included loans totalling $4,000, a crippling amount for a subsistence farmer.

SUNITA DHALE, WIFE (Translation): He spoke about his 200,000 rupee debt to me all the time. He would say that in a few years we have to get our daughter married, he worried about how we'd manage. He was always tense. But he didn't tell me from where he had borrowed money.

RICHARD LINDELL: Some of the money came from banks, some from money lenders charging exorbitant rates. He had no way of repaying his debts, nor does the family he's left behind.

SUNITA DHALE (Translation): The seeds are expensive, the fertiliser sex pensive. I won't be able to pay for them. I don't have anything to spend on my kids' education or the farm. If the government provides some help then I can consider managing the farm. The whole burden is on me.

RICHARD LINDELL: The reasons why so many farmers suicide are complex.

But underlying most is debt, caused by illness, dowry, unemployment or alcoholism combined with a wider breakdown of rural economies.

More than 90 per cent of farms here are rain dependent. But this small patch of irrigated land provides a glimpse of life as it was just a decade ago. Market gardens and multi-cropping were the norm. Farmers would grow what could be eaten and sold locally as well as cash crops like cotton. But in recent years the government encouraged monoculture, and a move towards genetically modified cotton. It's high risk and high reward and GM cotton is now the predominant crop.

KISHORE TIWARI, COMMUNITY LEADER: Cotton is the only crash crop. And if you look at the cultivation area, around more than 80 per cent area is covered under cotton. But up after 2005 having allowed this multinational companies to take over in seed, what happened that the cost of the cultivation has been jumped but the cost of the cotton prices, which the produce comes, have collapsed. So that is the reason where the farmers suffered huge losses and the debt has created distress and distress are killing the farmers.

RICHARD LINDELL: Outside Ram Das Kishan Dhale's house, I speak to a group of farmers devastated by their community's loss.

PANKASH SURESH MANDHAR GODE, FARMER AND SCHOOL TEACHER: We can support each other socially also but also can't support them economically. Economic problem is the main problems here. We support him only emotionally.

RICHARD LINDELL: Some voice their anger at the government, others their own thoughts of suicide.

Homraj Vithal Burkonde and his daughter have anaemia. Monthly blood transfusions and years of poor returns have left him with debts of $3,000.

HOMRAJ VITHAL BURKONDE, FARMER (Translation): I'm stressed but I am trying to manage the situation with a happy-go-lucky attitude. The day my tension hits the roof I will meet the same fate as what happened at the village.

RICHARD LINDELL: He is in the process of selling his prized assets: two bullocks that will fetch $600 at the market.

The money will give him enough to plough just half his field, a job that will now have to be done manually.

HOMRAJ VITHAL BURKONDE (Translation): I have mortgaged my farm to the grocers in return for a year's food ration at home.

If I get a good problem crop this year and if I get good market prices for it, if I take a profit then I can pay off my debt. That is what I am hoping.

RICHARD LINDELL: So we see here these farmers still trying to plough their land and make another season, another crop. How much longer can they do this for?

KISHORE TIWARI: The future is very dark.

Kishore Tiwari is a community leader who has been fighting for farmers rights for more than a decade. His pessimism is well founded. Cotton prices are at a two-year low, thanks in part to a bumper crop in the US where farmers are propped up by yearly subsidies of $2.5 million.

HARISH RAWAT: This is the main complaint of the developing countries against the US government and other Western governments, even the government of Australia also. They are giving a lot of subsidies to their farmers. For them it is easier. In our country the number is such a large that we cannot.

RICHARD LINDELL: The Government provides small subsidies to farmers and compensation packages to families of those who have suicided. But corrupt officials have been accused of siphoning off money meant for those most in need.

Harish Rawat says the allocation of funds is a state responsibility.

HARISH RAWAT: This financial package is given to the state governments. It is for the state government to implement the package. And they can get it implemented through the financial institutions. They can get it used by their state official machinery and in some areas, NGO are also interested with his job.

RICHARD LINDELL: Ram Das Kishan Dhale's father says he's received no money, nor has any bureaucrat bothered to visit it them.

KISHAN ANAND RAO DHALE: I had just one son. He has died. My grief is so deep that I can't even think of anything right now. I do not even know what we should ask from the government.

Still, I would say that farmers should get a good and correct selling rate for our cotton so that the situation that has befallen us can be prevented. If the government determines good rates, then this position, where my son killed himself, would not have happened.

RICHARD LINDELL: But the government has no intention of regulating prices. Economic development demands the opposite, even in markets distorted by developed world subsidies.

Sixty per cent of Indians work in agriculture and they're bearing the brunt of India's economic transformation.

Two-hundred-and-fifty-thousand farmers have committed suicide. Many millions more now eke out an existence in city slums.

In Vidharba, signs of desertion dot the landscape, fields are left untended as the remnant of last year's crop wilt in the summer sun.
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