Why Indian Farmers Are Killing Themselves

Damaged credit score markets and the primacy of particular pursuits are placing huge burdens on Indian taxpayers and farmers.

Nations internationally subsidize agriculture. A key purpose for this has been meals safety. Different causes akin to fairness, environmental and cultural considerations additionally inform the choice to take action. In France, the countryside has lengthy held a strong draw on the favored creativeness, at the least for the reason that days of Jean Jacques Rousseau. Due to this fact, it has pioneered the frequent agricultural coverage in Europe. Even the capitalist United States is beneficiant with its farm subsidies.

India has at all times sponsored agriculture for 2 causes. First, it had bitter experiences of repeated famines below British rule, making meals safety a basic precedence. Second, most Indians have at all times relied on farming to make ends meet. Till final 12 months, agriculture offered 49% of employment within the nation. This huge share of the inhabitants typically works on small farms and survives hand to mouth, making fairness an overriding coverage concern in an more and more unequal fast-growing financial system. Given India’s historical past of social stratification and financial marginalization, this concern assumes added significance.


The story of credit score in rural India is advanced. The British sucked rural areas dry via a mixture of extreme taxation and exploitative commerce practices. India turned the land the place they grew opium, which they exported to China. This meant famine for Indians as a result of they might not develop rice or wheat. By the point the British left, there was no credit score in rural India. The one individuals who might present some credit score have been the a lot maligned moneylenders.

The moneylenders are nonetheless referred to as sahukars and are sometimes the one sources of credit score within the countryside. Although they provide loans at an exorbitant price, farmers don’t have any different locations to show to in instances of misery. The observe of all youngsters inheriting the household farm has led to acute fragmentation. Small plots of land are sometimes not viable even for subsistence farming. Add to it the truth that 52% of agricultural land in India is “nonetheless un-irrigated and rainfed.” This implies farmers are one dangerous monsoon away from unmitigated catastrophe.

It was partly to resolve this drawback that the federal government began nationalizing banks. Whereas the method started in 1955, the massive wave of financial institution nationalization occurred in 1969. The chief rationalization for this measure was to increase fairness to farmers in India’s underserved rural areas. Indira Gandhi, who was prime minister on the time, justified nationalization on the grounds of bettering financial improvement, lowering regional disparities, eradicating poverty and rising employment.

Sadly for the late prime minister, this imaginative and prescient has not precisely materialized. India’s notorious paperwork and Kafkaesque crimson tape ensures that solely the comparatively affluent and socially linked farmers handle to get loans. Which means loans don’t go to the neediest.

In India’s rambunctious democracy, an extra characteristic quickly emerged. Politicians might drive state-owned banks to make choices that have been politically expedient, even when economically dangerous. So, farmers began asking for waivers of farm loans and politicians began competing with one another to forgive them.


The politics of farm mortgage waivers raises a key query: Why do these loans fail?

First, the repeated cycles of mortgage waivers has ensured the twin financial drawback of ethical hazard and hostile choice. Merely put, many farmers take loans with no intention of repaying them. Moreover, the financial institution has much less info than the farmers about their means and, extra importantly, willingness to repay loans. Institutional decline has additional corroded the banks’ means to make the right lending choices.

Second, agriculture in India continues to be risky. The Financial system Survey 2018 printed by the federal government chronicles the discount of volatility over time. From 1960 to 2004, the usual deviation of agricultural manufacturing was 6.3%. From 2004 to 2018, this determine got here all the way down to 2.9%. It is a important achievement, but it surely nonetheless leaves a lot danger for farmers. Within the 52% rainfed areas, this danger is of course larger. Drought or flood can simply result in mortgage defaults.

Third, the Agricultural Produce Market Committee (APMC) has set a ceiling on the worth farmers can get for his or her produce. As per the Indian authorities, about 2,477 principal markets and 4,843 submarkets are run by APMCs. The idea of APMC emerged to guard farmers from intermediaries akin to cash lenders. Farmers must convey their produce to markets run by APMCs to be bought via public sale. In idea, this could have labored splendidly. In actuality, native politicians and particular pursuits management APMCs.

A measure to guard farmers now ensures their exploitation. Since APMCs are the one consumers, this results in the financial drawback of monopsony. APMCs maintain farmers over a barrel and break their backs by providing them precipitously low costs. In a current incident, a farmer obtained simply over 1 rupee (1 cent) per kilogram for the onions he bought to an APMC-controlled market.

Not solely do farmers obtain low costs, they not often get their fee promptly. The delay is weeks, if not months. Additionally, merchants typically arbitrarily drive a haircut on beleaguered farmers, speciously claiming a money crunch. There’s one other fly within the ointment. Patrons from APMCs don’t give receipts to farmers. This implies farmers can not show their revenue to banks that require intensive paperwork to find out eligibility. As they can not show their revenue stage, they don’t get loans, leaving them prey to exorbitant charges by sahukars once they want credit score.

Fourth, whereas APMCs impose a ceiling on the costs that farmers obtain, the Nationwide Rural Employment Assure Act (NREGA) imposes a flooring for wages they must pay. India’s NREGA applications present at the least 100 days of assured wage employment to each household. Whereas this measure was motivated by welfare considerations, certainly one of its unwanted effects was rising the price of labor for farmers, squeezing them even more durable.

Fifth, farmers don’t have any recourse to storage and must promote their produce instantly after harvest. This lack of storage exacerbates their vulnerability. They must promote earlier than their crops rot, tilting the steadiness of energy even additional in favor of merchants. Typically, this harms shoppers too as a result of merchants take pleasure in profiteering by hoarding and creating synthetic scarcities. In 2015, this contributed to excessive costs for pulses.


Like many different nations, the overriding incentive of Indian politicians is to win elections. They’ll solely accomplish that by fixing essentially the most fast points dealing with their voters. Farmers unable or unwilling to pay again financial institution loans know that politicians will probably be most amenable to put in writing them off in return for political help. Due to this fact, farmers clamor for mortgage write-offs throughout every election with a lot success. Sarcastically, only some comparatively well-off farmers get debt aid, giving the overwhelming majority no profit in any respect. So as to add insult to harm, some affluent farmers sport the system repeatedly, ruthlessly ripping off the taxpayer.

Such is the size of the write-offs that they’re nearing $12 billion, rising by 38.2% within the fiscal 12 months 2017-18 alone. Final 12 months, two of the authors defined India’s monetary disaster in a lot element. Indian banks are saddled with non-performing property (NPAs). With an NPA ratio of 9.85%, India had the fifth highest NPA ratio on the earth, rating solely after Greece, Italy, Portugal and Eire. Writing-off farmer loans is making the NPA drawback worse and including better burdens to the taxpayer.

It isn’t solely taxpayers but additionally small farmers whose burdens are rising. Squeezed by volatility, APMCs and NREGA, they face rising prices and falling incomes. In a current article, P. Sainath, essentially the most eminent chronicler of rural India, factors out how farmers face a terrifying disaster and much too many are unable to eke out a dwelling. Although India’s inhabitants remains to be rising, the variety of farmers is falling by 2,040 each 24 hours. Farmers more and more find yourself in debt traps and switch so determined that they typically take their lives.

A long time after independence, farmer suicides proceed to be a serious drawback in India and are an affidavit to the damaged rural credit score markets that want pressing reform. The operative query at the moment is easy: Can India transfer past salves for signs in election season and deal with its more and more acute rural debt illness?

The views expressed on this article are the writer’s personal and don’t essentially mirror Truthful Observer’s editorial coverage.

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