Crop failure, mounting debts drive them to suicide

With one cotton farmer committing suicide every alternate day, the district has become a virtual killing field for growers grappling with the socio-economic upheaval caused by crop failure this season.

The current spate of suicides started at the beginning of the last quarter of 2010, when it became clear that the excessive rain irreparably damaged the crops. Dismal yields and mounting debts drove 30 farmers to death during this period.

With 16 farmers ending their lives in January, the rate of suicide increased from one in three days to one every two days. The farmers' expectation that the situation would ease as the season progressed was belied once again.

Bt cotton

The promise of a better income drove more and more farmers to Bt cotton during the kharif season of 2010. In just one year, the area under cotton in the district increased from more than 2 lakh hectares to over 3 lakh hectares.

Having worked as an agricultural labourer all his life, Sheikh Ramzan, 55, of Borigaon in Ichoda mandal began cultivating his five acres only in 2009. Little did he realise that his dream of becoming a farmer would be shattered by the unusually inclement weather. “He became progressively pensive as the spells of heavy rain kept destroying the crop,” recalls Ramzan's wife Aisha Bi, speaking of the weeks before the farmer committed suicide in January.

“Instead of 25 quintals of cotton expected at the start of the season, he got only 1.5 quintal,” she says.

Tallapalli Chinna Ganganna, a small farmer from Kapri in Jainad mandal, found himself at a loss, as the crop failed in the very first year he took to cultivation on his own. “He ran into debts amounting to Rs.1.3 lakh, half of which was spent on treatment of his wife who died in June,” says Sagudam Latchanna, a neighbour.

Ganganna's orphaned daughter Sangeeta and son Shivanna abandoned their small house in the belief that it brought them ill luck. Living in a makeshift hut close by, they now await the relief package from the government.

The government goes about its laborious routine of offering monetary relief, but does hardly anything concrete to prevent suicides.

The adverse weather conditions were characterised by spells of excessive rain between June-end and September-end: against the normal of 10 cm for the June-December period, the district received nearly 12 cm. While the investment went up by more than 30 per cent of the normal Rs. 10,000 an acre, the yield came down by 70 per cent.

“No one ever lacks a good reason for suicide,” said Italian author Cesare Pavese as he attempted, perhaps, to justify the tendency.