Part of the reason I dedicated myself to working in India was hearing stories about small-scale farmers. Parts of my childhood were spent in fields, at grain sales and sitting in tractors on my grandpa’s knee. So, when I first traveled to Andhra Pradesh in 2011, I was shocked to learn that the state has one of the highest farmer suicide rates in India. This, of course, was not something I expected to learn but it became something that has stayed with me.
An article written by Andrew Malone of GlobalResearch puts the number of farmer suicides at 125,000. One Indian agriculture department reports that suicides among farmers are up to 1,000 per month. Suicide levels have skyrocketed because of rising debt, which are caused by increased seed prices, increased operational costs and worst of all, failed GM (genetically modified) crops. A common method of suicide is ironically swallowing the same pesticides that drive farmers into such deep debt in the first place.
Most farmers are switching to GM seeds because of the promises made by seed salesmen; promises that crops will be immune to diseases and pests, and promises of incredible yields. Unfortunately, the cost for GM seeds is about ten times the cost of traditional seeds, and many farmers never see the promised results. Their debt soon becomes insurmountable and suicide is the “solution” for far too many. One farmer was noted to have about 80,000 rupees ($1,500 Canadian) in debt. For a Westerner, $1,500 in debt can be difficult; for an Indian farmer, it’s a death sentence.
After returning from our 2012 trip to India, we knew that thisvillage could be a part of the solution to the pain caused by these levels of debt and suicide. As we work in some of these villages, we realize the need to attack the root problems. Women–who are left widowed and without income or social protection–will be taught to read and find employment. Orphans–who struggle to find food security, proper education and safety–will be put through school, fed and nurtured. Farmers–who are without solutions to their debt–will be taught organic farming methods, debt-fighting strategies and any other assistance needed.
This is a layered, complex, difficult subject but there are solutions and we hope to be apart of it. The numbers emerging from these stories are too shocking and too unjust to ignore.
— Ryan Mulligan