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Activist: Farmer suicides in India linked to debt, globalization

January 6th, 2010
07:37 PM ET
One environmental activist claims the surge in suicides among India's farmers is related to a system of agriculture that has higher production costs than the farmer can cover with earnings.
One environmental activist claims the surge in suicides among India's farmers is related to a system of agriculture that has higher production costs than the farmer can cover with earnings.

By George Lerner; Producer, AMANPOUR.

(CNN) - Thousands of poor farmers in India have committed suicide over the past decade as changes in India's agricultural policy set off a widening spiral of debt and despair, one environmental activist said Tuesday.

"The farmer suicides started in 1997. That's when the corporate seed control started," Vandana Shiva told CNN's Christiane Amanpour. "And it's directly related to indebtedness, and indebtedness created by two factors linked to globalization."

For Shiva, who works with farming communities across India, those two factors were the ceding of control of the seed supply to the corporate chemical industry - leading to increased production costs for already-struggling farmers - as well as falling food prices in a global agricultural economy.

An estimated 200,000 farmers have taken their own lives in India over the past 13 years, according to Indian government statistics.

"The combination is unpayable debt, and it's the day the farmer is going to lose his land for chemicals and seeds, that is the day the farmer drinks pesticide," Shiva said. "And it's totally related to a negative economy, of an agriculture that costs more in production than the farmer can ever earn."

But Columbia University Economics Professor Jagdish Bhagwati, a former adviser to the Indian government, said that globalization was not responsible for the surge of suicides among cotton farmers in the Indian states of Maharastra and Andhra Pradesh.

"There are other states in India where cotton seeds have been absorbed and which are really prosperous. So you have to ask, why is it that these are breaking out?" he asked. "What's happening is very much like the subprime mortgages in the United States, where a whole bunch of salesmen went out and sold mortgages to people who couldn't afford them."

One environmental activist claims the surge in suicides among India's farmers is related to a system of agriculture that has higher production costs than the farmer can cover with earnings.

Filed under:  1 • Farmers • India • Suicide
soundoff (18 Responses)
  1. Eric Baanders

    Time for Change !


    January 6, 2010 at 8:58 pm | Reply
  2. AJ

    wow, this was an eye opening show – an Amazing debate.

    I had no idea this was going on in India. It was astonishing how Bhagwati called the death of 200,000 "insignificant". But I loved how Dr. Shiva stood her ground; she seems like a very strong, admirable woman, bless her.

    Definitely gonna follow this.

    January 6, 2010 at 11:58 pm | Reply
  3. Patricia Madhusudanan

    I don't blame GLOBALIZATION as the reason but the WAY things are done. Globalization can be very good if the Government apply it can help. The problem is that from the past 15 years I have seen the "modernization" is coming to India without any adjustment to India's way of life (which is very much ecological, by the way).
    You can't stop the planet to be globalized but you can adjust the way for each country.
    India has productive and ecological rural areas..the Government should help these people to keep the good things and at the same time, improve their lives with benefits.

    January 7, 2010 at 7:59 am | Reply
  4. Kannan

    That comment from Bhagawati that in the context of the indian population we need to "understand" that the suicides were "insignificant" made me jump out of the seat.

    I am disappointed in myself for not knowing this fact as an Indian. I am disgusted an Indian in a respectable position like Mr. Bhagawati would make a comment of that sort. Irrespective of which side you take on the debate, such insensitivity is unforgivable.

    March 25, 2010 at 8:51 pm | Reply
  5. Chetan

    Mr. Bhagawati, who was defending globalization, didn't put in the appropriate words. Being a Professor in Columbia and having served as an advisor to the prime minister of India, he should've done so much better than his mean, unconcerned participation in the debate. And 200,000 people constitutes of about 2-3% of the Indian farmer population. Losing them is no joke, Mr. Bhagawati !

    And that part where he points out about farmer suicides from the 'textbook' he studied 50 years ago is funny.

    Globalization is both good and bad to a growing economy like India. The government should take the necessary steps towards globalization so that it doesn't hurt the backbone of Indian economy.

    And I am indeed impressed by Dr. Shiva. Hopefully many people join hands in fighting towards the cause.

    March 27, 2010 at 8:22 pm | Reply
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