03 September 2014

Farmers' Suicides in India, 1995-2012: Measurement and Interpretation

My paper, Farmers' Suicides in India, 1995-2012: Measurement and Interpretation has come out in the LSE Asia Research Centre Working Papers Series (#62).  The paper raises three broad concerns. First, there is a need to improve the quality of data associated with reporting of suicides in India. In addition to under-reporting,  it is worrying that there seems to be a deliberate attempt (that is quite evident in Chhattisgarh and West Bengal but is not absent in other states) to tamper with the classification so as to hide farmers' suicides. Second, a careful consideration of the definitions in the reported data has implications in the quality of measuring suicide rates. In other words, measurement of farmers' suicide rates for India is obfuscated because of inappropriate understanding of the Indian context. This is a bit unconvincing because some of the scholars using this data have been working on India and have a fairly good knowledge of India. Finally, it questions the larger development discourse linked to farmers' suicides being limited to the pros and cons of a particular seed technology. This, unfortunately,  has diverted the global attention from real issues with regard to sustainability of farming and the focus on livelihood where the quality of life of the farmer and their families matter. The summary of the paper is given below.

Background: Farmers’ suicides have become an important socio-economic concern in India that has profound implication on the quality of life of farmers and their families. There are not many epidemiological studies on this. We propose to estimate suicide rates for farmers and non-farmers across the states of India and over time. We will also contextualise our results to the discourse on agricultural technology and development in general and that of cotton farming in particular.

Methods: Suicide rates are computed per 100,000 people using suicide incidences for farmers and non-farmers reported by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) from 1995 to 2012 and normalising the same with age-adjusted interpolated/extrapolated population computed from census.

Findings: At the aggregate all India level, one observes that the suicide rates for male farmers increases to a peak in 2004 and there is a second spike in 2009 but then it declines and also becomes lower than the suicide rates for male non-farmers in 2011 and 2012. However, state-specific analysis, while showing mixed pattern, indicates that the decline in recent years is largely on account of an abrupt drop in Chhattisgarh on account of changes in reporting and non-reporting of farmers’ suicides for West Bengal in 2012. The states of Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra with large cotton-growing areas and with relatively higher incidence of farmers’ suicides, in contrast to the all India trend, show an increasing trend in recent years.

Interpretation: Relatively higher incidence of farmers’ suicides is symptomatic of risk and raises livelihood as also public health concerns among the population dependent on agriculture. Public policy should focus on livelihood-enhancing and sustainable agricultural practices. Public health interventions should address the need for mental health care, reduce response time to lower harm and prevent deaths from poisoning and other self-inflicted harm, and restrict and regulate the access to and use of organophosphorous poisons. We also call for shifting the development discourse linked to farmers’ suicides from a techno-centric yield or income focus to a people-centric livelihood and quality of life focus.

This paper was a substantial part of my work as the Subir Chowdhury Fellow on Quality and Economics for 2013-14 at LSE. The link to the paper:  Farmers' Suicides in India, 1995-2012: Measurement and Interpretation.

The link to my co-edited book: Agrarian Crisis in India.

Some other related blog posts: 

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