Wave Of Suicides Among Indian Farmers

The record suicide rate among farmers in India continues to rise and is threatening the country's stability and future development, according to campaigners.

They are blaming the government's policies for the agrarian crisis and are demanding it takes urgent action.

More than a quarter of a million farmers have killed themselves in the last 16 years in what is the largest recorded wave of suicides in history.

Kishore Tiwari, a campaigner with the Vidharbha Jan Andolan Samiti in Maharashtra state in central India, says cotton farmers have been particularly badly affected.

Many of them have only just moved to growing cash crops - like cotton - in the last few years.

He says the farmers have taken on large debts to buy hybrid seeds, which are often unsuited to the harsh and temperamental Indian climate.

"They are sold these modern seeds and modern chemicals and have to take on large debts to buy them.

"The problem is they need a lot of water which is in short supply and then when the crop is poor and they have to repay the money lenders, they despair and commit suicide."

Mr Tiwari says the suicides are a symptom of a wider crisis in the countryside.

India's has one of the fastest growing economies in the world but its roots are in the countryside and much of it is being left behind.

In a country with aspirations, moving away from a life of subsistence is attractive but it can also be deadly.

Vandana Moohorle is now bringing up her children alone after her husband killed himself by drinking pesticide.

Like many farmers, he had been persuaded to use genetically modified seeds by the possibility of a better harvest. What he wasn't told was that they needed more rain than the region provided.

His wife blames the government and the large agricultural companies for exploiting the rural poor who dream of a better life.

"He was always tense" she said. "He had borrowed a lot of money for pesticides and fertilizers and now I will have to pay back his debts. Debt is the reason for all the suicides around here and it's the people in charge who are responsible for it."

Across rural India there is now widespread despair. The fields are also filling up with widows.

Activists say it is the other side of India's economic success story.

Beyond the headlines of fast growth, most of the country is still poor and is being left behind by a corrupt political class who are preoccupied with their own greed.

They point to the alarming suicide numbers to prove their point.

More than 60% of India's population still depends on the countryside for survival but with unfettered globalisation and little support from the government, the rural classes are badly exposed.

In the face of rising inflation and with no safety net, the ultimate act of desperation is often their only answer to the new world they live in.

It is a sobering fact but on average one farmer now commits suicide in India every 30 minutes.

And campaigners say the problem will only get worse without direct intervention from the government in the form of subsidies and agricultural educational programmes.