Death By Pesticides

The story goes deeper than debt…

In recent history, India had experienced the biggest wave of suicides from 1995 through 2010. Most of these suicides are linked to the rising debt of farmers but could there be more to the story? In “Every Thirty Minutes: Farmer Suicides, Human Rights, and the Agrarian Crisis in India”, the author speaks about how the farmer suicides can mostly be linked to the financial struggles farmers are facing in India. With rising seed prices, the need for more pesticides and chemical aids, evolving technologies, and less farmer rights it seems reasonable that debt would play a major role into why there is a sudden wave of farmer suicides. However, this may not be the whole story.

Originally, this story begins with debt and does a very convincing job at ending it at that. I was guilty of believing that the issue of farmer debt was all there was to the devastation of lives because it was an issue fairly close to my heart. I have various family members who are farmers in Mexico that work with heavy pesticides and constantly struggle to keep up with the growing technologies and rising cost of the field. Many of them have fallen into debt to maintain their land and continue to struggle through in the hopes of providing their families with the necessities and a better future. My grandfather, whom is 83 years old, still wakes up every morning at 5am to go out into his fields because he doesn’t know anything besides agriculture. Similarly, many of the farmers in India push through the struggles because farming is the only means of income that they have and the only type of work that they identify with. In the second section of the report, it describes how the suicides mostly revolve around cotton farmers. This is due to the implementation of BT cotton seeds into the Punjab of India which proved to provide the country with the economic growth they were looking to generate. However, much of the wealth only benefits the nation’s elite and government while leaving the majority in devastating poverty. With the new economic policies of India, it left farmers facing heavy competition with international markets and driving them deeper into debt. It is easy to see how the issue of debt can become the main focus and explanatory variable in the suicide wave but it is also important to see that culture plays a big role in the phenomenon.

In a letter to the Prime Minister, representatives of the farmers across the country speak about how their agrarian way of life and economies were heavily neglected by the government in search for economic growth. Not only were the farmer’s hardships not met or dealt with appropriately, the land was also being neglected heavily in search for profit. Ultimately, the farmers are fighting for the rights of the land. When we take this into consideration, we can shed new light on the suicide phenomenon all across the agricultural sector in India. Farmer are demonstrating the damage the land is taking from monocultures and large scale farming, from the heavy use of herbicides and pesticides, and from the government’s neglect of traditional agrarian ways by ingesting the very thing that is providing the government with the money they have been hoping for; pesticides.

In an interview in the documentary “The True Price”, Vandana Shiva speaks about how the farmers in India are falling desperately into debt after the introduction of BT Cotton seeds because the companies who make the seeds and the chemicals used to produce the yields they promise are the same companies. Additionally, while the farmers continue to take out loans to keep up with international competitors, the companies keep generating profits. However, when the farmer is unable to pay back the loans and the government usurps their land, that is when the farmers go out into the fields and ingest a bottle of pesticides. While Shiva does contribute some of the blame on debt, she notes that it is only when the farmers lose their connection to the land, it is when the suicides occur. Additionally, in the article “No, GMOs Didn’t Create India’s Farmer Suicide Problem, But…” by Tom Philpott, the author speaks about how the blame should not all fall on the infiltration of GMO seeds into India but with the water shortage small farmers face across India which can be attributed to pesticide use and the contamination of groundwater.

Ultimately, it is important to note that while farmer debt is a very serious issue, farmer suicides are much more meaningful than what they are made out to be by western analysts. The farmer suicides are a desperate attempt to demonstrate how harmful pesticides are to the land and how we need to rethink how we operate the agricultural industry as well as how we grow our foods.