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Farmer Suicide: A New Epidemic in Western Odisha

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Padmaja Priyadarshinee

Mphil. Student at Koraput Central university, AB Fellow

Odisha is mainly known as an agricultural state. Majority of the population in Odisha are engaged in farming as their prime occupation. The earnings of rural parts of Odisha mainly come from their agricultural land. As per the reports of economic survey of Odisha 2016-17, there has been an increase in the per capita income of Odisha by 7% when compared to the per capita income of 2015-16. This increase is because of the industries and the service sectors that are proving as the drivers of growth in the state. But when it comes to agricultural sector, it has almost lost its importance as a contributor to states economy. However agriculture in Odisha has retained its status as it is the main provider of livelihood to all most all the families who rely on farming as their only source of income.

The life of a farmer is very difficult as he struggles a lot to meet our requirement or the basic need of food. Whatever we eat today is all because of the labor and sweated blood of the farmers. They do the work of feeding the humanity but their life is more sorrowful then one can imagine. In the recent past the life of farmers in Odisha has been undergoing a tragic phase. There has been increase in the number of farmer suicides every year which is not at all new for Odisha. Numerous factors are responsible for it like failure of seasonal crops, insolvency, unable to pay the loan due to poverty and many more. 2015-16 is proved to be the darkest year in the history of Odisha.

Many farmers especially those of Western Odisha like Bolangir, Bargarh and Sambalpur choose the option of hanging themselves to death as a result of being unable to pay their loans because of huge loss in crops. The government however in an attempt to find the reasons behind the suicide linked these deaths as a reason because of illness and plenty of liquor consumption among the farmers. The government constantly tried to mislead by claiming that the suicides was not because of crop failure but because of family issues, drug addiction and heart attacks. But that was not the case. The year 2015-16 experienced scanty rainfall during monsoon resulting in a drought like situations. Because of this there was failure of kharif crops which resulted in the financial distress among the farmers.

In Odisha the farmers grow paddy crops and most of the suicides were by the paddy cultivators. Insolvency is the major reason for which the farmers are committing suicides. The farmers take loans either from private and non government agencies who in return charge high rate of interests. Unable to pay the loan to the moneylenders and in a fear to face the public out of shame, they often opt to commit suicide.

On the other hand there is a different situation in the current year. Because of favorable climatic condition the farmers in Odisha are growing more vegetables. Cabbage, tomatoes, green chilies, potatoes are some of the vegetables which are being produced in large quantity in many parts of Odisha. As a result, the farmers are suffering as there is increase in production because of which the selling prices of the vegetables have gone very low and the excess crops are getting wasted. They are not getting market to sell their vegetables. Farmers across Odisha are protesting by throwing the vegetables in the street. The government is unable to provide cold storage facilities to the farmers as well as the compensation for the losses. The farmers claimed that they are unable to sell their produce even after selling it at low prices and as there is abundant production they are unable to store it because of lack of cold storages. The demonetization has also impacted the sell as people had less or no cash to buy vegetables.

The farmers are bound to sell the tomatoes at 1 rupee per kilogram. However the cost of wage for plucking the tomatoes comes around Rs. 10 per kilogram. Moreover there are other expenses that they do is like spending on fertilizers, disinfectant, equipment’s, water etc. In order to avoid incurring losses they are not engaging labor to pluck the tomatoes and letting them to rot in the fields. Same is the case with cabbage as well, where one cabbage is sold at 1 rupee. And because of this distress sell, farmers have started committing suicide. Most of the farmers had taken loan from banks as well as SHG groups and are unable to pay the loan.

In both the cases the government has ignored the farmers need. Odisha has neglected the agriculture sector and has allowed the expansion of industries and mining sectors whereas most of the population in Odisha are engaged in agriculture. The ground and the surface water are excessively misutilised and exploited resulting in scarcity of water for human and agricultural use.

If proper storage facilities could have been provided to the farmers in large numbers then they could have been able to store their vegetables or crops and could have got the value out of it for several months. And that would have helped them in repaying their debts and it could have given a new hope for the future. Most of the farmers in Odisha are illiterate and can’t read or write. As they are not educated they are not aware of their legitimate rights and are hence choosing to commit suicides. And the public administrators are just becoming mute spectators and eye witnesses as they have nothing to do with this rampant condition of the state.

It is high time that all the groups which are residing likewise public administration, state bodies and NGOs to come forward and to look after the epidemic and to ponder over these vulnerable matters as soon as possible. The sooner the state will wake up, better the life of farmers will be in forthcoming days.

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