The NY Times ran an article yesterday, On India’s Farms, a Plague of Suicide, by Somini Sengupta detailing the epidemic of suicides among India’s farmers over the past several years.
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.
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.
Yes, you read that right. 17,107 farmers committed suicide in 2003. In one country, two years ago, in one twelve month period. And the trend is apparently continuing as Sengupta reports:
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. Villagers in Bhadumari gathered in the house of Anil Kondba Shende and looked at his body as the local police investigated his suicide. 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.
A caption to the lead picture notes Shende’s “cotton crop failed three times this year — twice for lack of rain and once from flooding.”
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.
Mr. Singh’s government, which has otherwise emerged as a strong ally of America, has become one of the loudest critics in the developing world of Washington’s $18 billion a year in subsidies to its own farmers, which have helped drive down the price of cotton for farmers like Mr. Shende.
At the same time, frustration is building in India with American multinational companies peddling costly, genetically modified seeds. They have made deep inroads in rural India — a vast and alluring market — bringing new opportunities but also new risks as Indian farmers pile up debt.
In this central Indian cotton-growing area, known as Vidarbha, the unofficial death toll from suicides, compiled by a local advocacy group and impossible to verify, was 767 in a 14-month period that ended in late August.
If the trend has been any where near the numbers of 2003, how many have taken their lives in the past 5? 60,000? 75.000? 90,000? How much money did the American multinational companies take in? Is the plan to go in and buy all the farmland of dead or indebted Indian farmers and make them profitable using methods, pesticides, etc that are banned here? How much respect will they have for the environment of India, the workers, or the health of people who live downstream or downwind?
It’s not like they have sterling records in these situations. They are consistently focused on their own profits, which they usually take out of the countries whose land and resources they degrade and exploit. If they start growing cotton in India that competes with our farmers, then what?
The Indian farmers are so depressed about the situation they are committing suicide in mind numbing figures. What other wonders have these globalization practices brought to the underdeveloped countries trying to grow their economies and raise the standard of living for their citizens?
This is another place where American Foreign Policy and diplomacy are failing both the world and our own citizens. Globalization has as much potential to be good as it has been bad. Unfortunately it has been dominated by the elite American corporations who have the wealth to create economic and legal policies that favor them and leave others in the rut they are trying to climb out of.
So, surely the best thing to do any time now is attack Iran? Gosh, let’s spread our love to every corner of the world.