There is a frightening global phenomenon sweeping across ag-heavy states and countries, and it is getting worse.
Farmers are committing suicide more than any other occupation. The problem is most prominent in India, where desperation to pay debts amidst poor crop yields leads to what some farmers see as their only option. In 2011, the suicide rate among Indian farmers was 47% higher than any other occupation in the country.
Modern Farmer took an in-depth look into the phenomenon, telling the story of one Indian man named Rama Krishna, 35, who faced paying back about $14,000 loan he’d taken for his farm. As yields waned and his livestock business quickly crashed, Krishna took his own life. Now, his family is left to pay off the debt left behind. (To put this into perspective, Rama’s wife has picked up a job picking peanuts, earning about 100 rupees or $1.60 per day, according to the article.)
While there are attempted intervention methods to alleviate and educate the population, there doesn’t seem to be an easy fix. Intervention methods may be well-intentioned, but perhaps not the answer, according to one subject interviewed in the piece. “While they appreciate any intervention,” said Nick Van Der Velde, a Dutch entrepreneur who worked with the Indian NGO, National Innovation Foundation, to develop a windmill in an Indian state, “the bottom line is they just want to sell their product for a good price.”
The problem is far from being to India’s burden alone. According to a study completed in 2000, suicide rate of farmers in England and Wales is unusually high, accounting for one percent of the country’s suicides. In China, farmers are committing suicide as a sign of protest against the government pushing them away from their land. In France, every two days a farmer commits suicide. In Australia, there are concerns that drought could lead to an even higher suicide rate.
The U.S., too, is affected. According to an Aljazeera America article, the U.S.’s major farming states are the countries’ top contenders for the highest suicide rates. In 2010, Wyoming was the state with the highest suicide rate, with 23.2 suicides per 100,000 people. Here’s an excerpt from the piece, describing the situation:
Every year, Idaho, New Mexico, Wyoming, Alaska, Montana and Nevada, among others, seem to leapfrog one another in the top 10 as the most suicidal. They’re giant states — ones with more fields and long stretches of freeway than urban centers, places with populations of cows that rival those of people…. And in a place like Idaho, one that relies heavily on rural people and a thriving agribusiness to contribute to its economy, the suicide rate of farmers remains a concern.
Experts are trying to understand exactly why this is happening in order to alleviate the problem. The first thought that comes to mind for many is that suicides results due to financial stress. Other experts suggest that better mental health services is key, and suicide rates might be higher for farmers who presumably to not have nearly as much access to these services in rural communities.
Regardless of the causes, this phenomenon is not an epidemic, but in fact, is steady trend among farmers that has been present. It might be that insurance products such as ClimateCorp, a weather data and insurance company, should help buffer some of the financial threats farmers face. It seems that as ag-land becomes more marginalized, the farm-life becomes even more distant a notion and demand climbs, it might be time to pay more attention to the people that give us the food we eat everyday.