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Farmers' Suicides in Maharashtra

An agrarian crisis has precipitated a spate of suicides in Maharashtra. The suicide mortality rate for farmers in the state has increased from 15 in 1995 to 57 in 2004. The rain-dependent cotton growing farmers of Vidarbha are faced with declining profitability because of dumping in the global market by the US, low import tariffs, failure of the Monopoly Cotton Procurement Scheme and withdrawal of the state (resulting in declining public investment in agriculture, poor government agriculture extension services and the diminishing role of formal credit institutions). The farmer now depends on the input dealer for advice, leading to supplier-induced demand, and on informal sources of credit, which result in a greater interest burden. In short, the farmer is faced with yield, price, credit, income and weather uncertainties. The way out is to merge bold public policy initiatives with civil society engagement.

Farmers’ Suicides in Maharashtra

An agrarian crisis has precipitated a spate of suicides in Maharashtra. The suicide mortality rate for farmers in the state has increased from 15 in 1995 to 57 in 2004. The rain-dependent cotton growing farmers of Vidarbha are faced with declining profitability because of dumping in the global market by the US, low import tariffs, failure of the Monopoly Cotton Procurement Scheme and withdrawal of the state (resulting in declining public investment in agriculture, poor government agriculture extension services and the diminishing role of formal credit institutions). The farmer now depends on the input dealer for advice, leading to supplier-induced demand, and on informal sources of credit, which result in a greater interest burden. In short, the farmer is faced with yield, price, credit, income and weather uncertainties. The way out is to merge bold public policy initiatives with civil society engagement.


armers’ suicides have been receiving a lot of social and public policy attention, particularly in the states of Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala, Punjab and Maharashtra, in recent years.1 A brief review of issues indicates that the dependence on agriculture is largely among marginal and small farmers and agricultural labourers. These groups also bear the brunt of the unavailability of water and its associated yield uncertainty. Linking of the national market with international markets has also increased price uncertainty, particularly in crops like cotton. The absence of a formal rural financial market also leads to a dependence on informal sources with a greater interest burden. The marginal and small farmer is, however, willing to experiment and take risks. But, the farmer is not able to visualise that a bad monsoon leading to a crop failure or a glut in the market can push him into indebtedness and a crashing of dreams. This paper discusses farmers’ suicides in Maharashtra, which is relatively higher in certain districts of Vidarbha.

Suicide is a complex and multifaceted phenomenon. Some important correlates can be identified either in the neurobiological domain [Mann 2002] or in the socio-economic domain (Durkheim 2002 (1897)]. The former are predisposing in nature. They are internal factors that exist in the individual. All those identified with these factors do not commit suicide. The presence of additional factors that are external to the individual becomes crucial. This takes us to the socio-economic factors that are precipitating in nature – they can act as a trigger. These can be either systemic or idiosyncratic. The current exercise identifies important socio-economic risk factors.

The rest of the paper is organised as follows. The suicide scenario and agrarian situation in Maharashtra are discussed in Sections I and II respectively. Micro level analysis based on field survey in the districts of Wardha, Washim and Yavatmal is discussed in Section III. Concluding remarks are in Section IV.

I Suicide Scenario in Maharashtra

Suicide data in India is compiled through police records.2 In 2001, Maharashtra constituted about 9.4 per cent of the all India population but accounted for 13.5 per cent of the total suicide deaths in the country. Suicides accounted for 2 per cent of the total deaths in the state whereas at the all India level suicides, accounted for 1.3 per cent of the total deaths. Suicide is a social phenomenon that differs across gender groups and it is appropriate to discuss patterns in males and females separately. In 2001, the age-adjusted suicide mortality rate (SMR, suicide deaths per 1,00,000 persons) for Maharashtra was 20.6 for males and 12.6 for females whereas for India it was 14.0 for males and 9.5 for females.3

In Maharashtra, the age-adjusted SMR for males increased from 17.4 in 1995 to 20.3 in 2004 and that for females decreased from 13.6 in 1995 to 10.8 in 2004 (Table 1). The absolute numbers of male suicides decreased in 1996, but thereafter they have been increasing. For females, the absolute number of suicides decreased in 1996 and then increased in the next two years, but have been declining since 1999. The age-adjusted SMR for males has not always been increasing indicating that the increase in the number of suicides has not been commensurate with the increase in population. Between 2001 and 2004 the age-adjusted SMR for males has been in the range of 20

21. The decline in absolute female suicides when the population has been rising explains the declining age-adjusted SMR for females. Across divisions, Amravati and Nagpur have relatively higher SMRs.

The total number of farmer suicides in Maharashtra increased from 1,083 in 1995 to 4,147 in 2004. The increase was largely because of a 288 per cent increase in male farmer suicides from 978 to 3,799. During this period, male farmer suicides as a proportion of total male suicides in Maharashtra increased from 14 per cent to 38 per cent. We can arrive at the SMR for farmers by normalising it with the population of cultivators. The SMR for male farmers increased by nearly four times from 15 in 1995 to 57 in 2004, but for females the trend fluctuated to reach a peak of 12 in 2001, but thereafter it has been declining. For males, the ratio of SMR for farmers to age-adjusted SMR was lower than unity in 1995, but thereafter it has been greater than unity and has been steadily increasing, and in 2004 the SMR for farmers was 2.8 times greater than that for the general population.

The SMR for farmers across divisions of Maharashtra during 2001-04 indicates relatively higher suicide deaths than the state average for males in Amravati and Nagpur divisions and for females in Amravati, Aurangabad and Nashik divisions (Table 2). Across divisions, the ratio of farmers-to-age-adjusted SMR is the maximum in Amravati among males and in Nashik among females. Nagpur has a higher SMR for farmers, which is lower only than in Amravati, but the ratio of farmers to age-adjusted SMR is much lower. This indicates that in a relative sense the SMR in Nagpur is also high across other subgroups of population which are not self-employed in farming.

II Agrarian Scenario in Maharashtra

In Maharashtra, the contribution of agriculture and allied activities to the net state domestic product in current prices came down from 40 per cent in 1960-61 to 13 per cent in 2004-05, whereas as per the 2001 Census 55 per cent of the total workers are either cultivators or agricultural labourers. Between1993-94 and 2003-04, the linear trend growth rate of Maharashtra’s gross state domestic product (GSDP) at 4.8 per cent per annum was lower than that of India’s gross domestic product (GDP) at 5.8 per cent per annum.4

The GSDP of agriculture’s in Maharashtra at 1993-94 prices, increased from Rs 21,750 crore for the triennium ending (TE) 1995-96 to Rs 24,988 crore for TE 2002-03. The eight major crop groups in terms of gross area under cultivation are cereals with nearly half of it under jowar, pulses (nearly three-tenths under tur), fibres (most of it cotton), oilseeds (nearly half of it under soyabean), sugar cane, fruits and vegetables, condiments and spices and drugs and narcotics.

The share of estimated gross value added is lower compared to the share of area for cereals (particularly low for jowar), pulses, fibres (mostly cotton) and oilseeds (Table 3). In TE 2002-03, cereals and pulses accounted for 64 per cent of the gross area under cultivation, but contributed to only 27 of the gross value added. Cotton accounts for 15 per cent area, but contributes to only 9 per cent of the gross value added in agriculture. Oilseeds account for 12 per cent share of area and 10 per cent of the gross value added but for soyabean the share of gross value added is slightly higher (5.7 per cent) than its share of area. Sugar cane accounts for less than 3 per cent of the area under cultivation, but 17 per cent of the gross value added. Fruits and vegetables account for less than 5 per cent of the area under cultivation, but nearly 36 per cent of the gross value added.

Between the annual average of TE 1995-96 and TE 2002-03, the incremental gross value added is positive for pulses, soyabean, sugar cane and fruits and vegetables; it has declined for cereals, cotton, condiments and spices and drugs and narcotics. The increase in incremental value for pulses, soyabean, sugar cane and fruits and vegetables is largely explained by an increase in area under cultivation, but for specific crops like tur, soyabean, banana, grape and tomato the share of other factors like yield, or advantages in relative prices also contribute.

The decline in incremental value for cereals is contributed by a decline in area as well as other factors. Condiments/spices show a decline despite a favourable impact of other factors because such areas might have shifted to more value addition crops under fruits and vegetables. The decline of drugs and narcotics could be indicative of the legal hassles associated with its cultivation.

In cotton, the incremental value has declined, but there has been an increase in area. With increasing yield, it suggests that the positive effect of an increase in area has largely been offset by unfavourable relative prices. In other words, the profitability of cotton cultivation is declining.

In Vidarbha, particularly in Amravati division and in the selected districts, the cropping pattern indicates a shift in area from cereals (particularly jowar) and cotton towards soyabean and to a lesser extent pulses. There is a shift, but with the absence of viable alternatives, Cotton continues to be a major cash crop accounting for 33 per cent of area in Wardha, 21 per cent of the area in Washim and 46 per cent of the area in Yavatmal in triennium ending (TE) 2002-03. Cotton and soyabean are the two important cash crops of the region.

In 2004-05, the year relevant for our primary survey, production of cotton was a record high worldwide as also in India. Maharashtra’s production at 52 lakh bales showed a 68 per cent increase over the previous year’s 31 lakh bales. This is largely because of a record yield of 297 kg/hectare in the state. Regardless of this, Maharashtra’s productivity at 64 per cent of the national average continues to be among the lowest. This growth would have bypassed Amravati division where the monsoon in May-October 2004 was largely deficient. In the selected districts, rainfall fell short of the normal by 22 per cent in Wardha, 31 per cent in Washim and 51 per cent in Yavatmal. The cotton farmer in this region faced both price as well as yield shocks simultaneously.

On cotton prices, there are a number of other relevant factors.

Table 1: Age-Adjusted Suicide Mortality Rates for Farmersin Maharashtra, 1995-2004

Year Age Adjusted (5+) SMR for Farmers Ratio of SMR for
SMR Farmers to
Age-Adjusted SMR
Males Females Males Females Males Females
1995 17.4 13.6 14.7 1.8 0.84 0.13
1996 16.0 12.6 23.5 7.1 1.47 0.56
1997 17.7 13.8 23.9 5.6 1.35 0.40
1998 18.9 14.4 29.0 8.5 1.53 0.59
1999 18.5 13.9 30.6 6.9 1.66 0.50
2000 19.6 12.9 37.3 10.1 1.90 0.78
2001 20.6 12.6 44.1 11.5 2.14 0.91
2002 20.3 11.9 47.3 10.8 2.33 0.91
2003 20.6 11.3 50.8 9.4 2.46 0.83
2004 20.3 10.8 57.2 7.4 2.81 0.68

Notes: SMR = suicide mortality rate; age-adjusted SMR takes into consideration 5+ population only. SMR for farmers is calculated by normalising suicides for those self-employed in agriculture on the population for cultivators. Year-wise population for each subgroup was interpolated/extrapolated and adjusted to give estimates that are subgroup consistent.

Sources: (i) Census of India, 1991 and 2001; (ii) Accidental Deaths and Suicides in India, 1995, 1996, 1997, 1998 and 1999, National Crime Records Bureau, New Delhi; Communication from CID, Pune; and (accessed October 5, 2005).

Table 2: Suicide Mortality Rate for Farmers across Divisions in Maharashtra, 2001-04

Divisions/ SMR for Farmers Ratio of SMR for Farmers to SMR Districts for Age-Adjusted Population Males Females Males Females

Amravati division 115.6 24.3 2.8 1.1 Aurangabad division 47.6 9.2 2.5 0.8 Konkan division 25.1 7.7 2.0 0.8 Nagpur division 55.5 8.5 2.0 0.6 Nashik division 36.6 12.0 2.2 1.4 Pune division 34.7 3.6 1.6 0.4 Maharashtra state 48.1 9.1 2.4 0.8

Note: The SMR for farmers are calculated with the assumption that cultivators as a proportion of 5+ years population is the same as it is in 2001. This is likely to underestimate SMR for farmers.

Source: As in Table 1.

Economic and Political Weekly April 22, 2006 Excess international supply at a lower price is also because of direct and indirect subsidies leading to dumping by the US. During the period 1998 to 2003, cotton export prices for the US were lower than their cost of production by more than 50 per cent on average [Murphy, Lilliston and Lake 2005]. Domestic policies in India have led to removal of quantitative restrictions and subsequently the reduction of import tariff from 35 per cent in 2001-02 to 5 per cent in 2002-03. All these exposed domestic prices to the volatility of international prices that has been adversely affecting the cotton farmer. Similarly, excessive cotton exports leading to an increase in yarn prices can adversely affect the handloom and powerloom weavers [Ghosh 2005]. The Monopoly Cotton Procurement Scheme (MCPS) in operation since 1972-73 in Maharashtra was meant to stabilise prices, but over time a plethora of problems and cumulative losses have rendered it non-functional [see also Shroff 2006]. In short, when the farmer is being exposed to the global market, there is no mechanism that will guard him/her against price volatility.

In 2004-05, the cost of production for cotton in Maharashtra according to the Commission on Agricultural Costs and Prices was Rs 2,216 per quintal, but the Minimum Support Price (MSP) was only Rs 1,960.5 The MSP indicated is for long staple variety of fair average quality and is assured only when the crop is sold in authorised centres. Thus, even if one includes the additional advance price of Rs 500 paid in Maharashtra in that year, which was discontinued in 2005-06, the MSP is still likely to fall short of costs or at most break even.6 The MSP for jowar also falls short of the cost of production in Maharashtra, but the MSP for soyabean and tur are greater than the cost of production. These observations are in line with shifts in cropping patterns and also to the changes in incremental value additions indicated above.

The state’s role as a facilitator of agricultural growth is examined by looking at public investment in agriculture, the rural financial market and agricultural extension, among others. In the absence of data for Maharashtra, a perusal of the all India situation suggests that gross fixed capital formation in agriculture as a proportion of the GDP declined from 3.1 per cent during 198085 (Sixth Plan) to 1.6 per cent during 1997-2002 (Ninth Plan). During the same period, gross fixed capital formation in agriculture as a proportion of total gross fixed capital formation declined from 13.1 per cent to 7.4 per cent in India, the proportion of plan expenditure towards agriculture and allied activities declined from 6.1 per cent to 4.5 per cent in India and from 6 per cent to 3.3 per cent in Maharashtra.

Recent trends with regard to agricultural credit in Maharashtra from 1991 to 2004 indicate the following. Credit utilisation to agriculture as a proportion of total credit utilisation in the state has declined from 20.2 per cent to 11.2 per cent – this is largely offset by an increase in personal loans. Agricultural credit utilisation is shifting from rural regions to urban areas, with Mumbai’s share having increased from 5 per cent to 48 per cent. Within agriculture, the share of direct finance reduced from 79 per cent to 51 per cent. Even after excluding Mumbai, division-wise distribution shows a decline in the share of both direct and indirect finance components of agricultural credit in Vidarbha.

In Maharashtra, the cooperative banks have been an important source of credit, particularly for agricultural purposes, in rural areas. A recent survey (59th round National Sample Survey, January-December 2003) indicates that in Maharashtra nearly half of the loans are from cooperative societies compared to about one-fifth for the all India average. However, much of these loans are likely to be outstanding debts, not current loans. The per hectare loan in the selected districts is relatively lower [Shah 2006]. A recent study of Yavatmal indicates that more than half the members are defaulters with their credit lines choked from one to many years [Sarangi 2004]. This is so because over the years, the cooperative credit institutions were faced with a number of problems – high interest rates, accounting practices were not rationalised and no professional management to mention a few [Government of India 2004].

An important issue raised in our focus group discussions (FGDs) conducted in 98 villages with an average participant size of six to seven (minimum-two, maximum-nine) is that current operational loans are likely to be from moneylenders. In 70 per cent of the FGDs, the availability of the informal loans in the village was mentioned. One participant’s remark during an FGD will elucidate the socio-economic dominance of the moneylender. The participant said that: “Gentleman, you will go away after this discussion. It is we who have to stay in the village. Please do not probe further into the details. Further revelation by us will make our stay in the village difficult.”

Informal loan transactions could be in ‘dedhi’. The debtor has to return the loan around harvest (within four to six months) and pay Rs 150 for a loan of Rs 100. Similarly, there is ‘sawai’ (payment of Rs 125 for a loan of Rs 100). Another popular form of loans for agricultural and social purposes is at an interest rate of Rs 10/Rs 5 per month. Non-payment of loan leads to rewriting of a fresh loan with some additional credit being given during the start of the next agricultural season.

A conventional form of collateral is land. Creditors now consider it risky because suicides can lead to cancellation of such contracts, and hence, insist on sale of land with a verbal (not legal) promise that it will be sold back to the debtor after the loan is repaid. If required, legal registration expenses on both counts are borne by the debtor. Land seizure/mortgage was mentioned in 17 per cent of FGDs.

Some of the moneylenders would also be traders. The loan taken could be for purchase of an input and repayment through sale of produce. Interlocking of credit, input and output markets are not necessarily enforced by the trader-moneylender, but

Table 3: Crop-wise Share of Estimated Gross Value Added(EGVA) to Share of Area (TE 2002-03) and Incremental EGVA(TE 2002-03 over TE 1995-96)

Crop Group Share of EGVA Incremental EGVA, TE 2002-03 over to Share of Area TE 1995-96

TE 2002-03 Level Area Effect Other Effect (Lakh Rupees) (Per Cent) (Per Cent)

Cereals 0.38 -61868.9 -53.0 -47.0 Pulses 0.49 5743.1 98.3 1.7 Fibres 0.61 -8230.5 177.5 -277.5 Oilseeds 0.85 5374.6 -358.5 458.5 Sugar cane 6.05 54313.9 130.5 -30.5 Fruits/vegetables 7.28 200564.0 205.2 -105.2 Condiments/spices 1.41 -402.9 -491.0 391.0 Drugs/narcotics 2.78 -359.7 -82.0 -18.0 Total 1.00 195133.6 -8.8 108.8

Notes: TE denotes triennium ending for three year annual average, Crop specific area was estimated from EGVA for crop and EGVA for crop per hectare. Incremental EGVA comprises area and other effects (Et-Et-k)=((At-At-k)Ot-k)+((Ot) where positive/negative

-Ot-k)Atsign for shares of area/other indicate the proportion contribution to increase/decrease in the level and E = EGVA, A = area and O = other. Source: State Income of Maharashtra (Soft copy), Directorate of Economics and Statistics, Mumbai, 2005.

operating with a single trader-moneylender, would save transaction costs to the farmer.

Nearly 50 per cent of FGDs discussed the paucity of water. Despite delay and deficient rain, there were instances of people (whole villages) opting for a second or third sowing without any groundwater dependence. With seed replacement being almost complete, it contributed to additional expenses for seed. In the last 5-10 years there has been an increase in the number of sprayings for insecticides/pesticides and an increase in the need and cost for fertilisers. All these added to the cost. The issue of spurious quality of inputs also came up in the discussions. This brings forth some important points. First, the absence of an extension service which could have advised the farmers against late sowing or improper use of other inputs. Second, with new technology on the anvil, there is deskilling and the farmer’s experience becomes redundant. The private traders selling farm inputs advise the farmer on extension service. This leads to supplier-induced demand.

We also came across villages from where many people have migrated in search of jobs. In 14 per cent of the FGDs, difficulty in getting employment or availability of work at low wages was mentioned. These not only indicate the unavailability of nonfarm jobs in the study regions, but also indicate poor public interventions.

One of the important social welfare measures in the state is the Maharashtra Employment Guarantee Scheme (MEGS), which has been in operation since 1970s. In the inland eastern region (consisting of all the districts of Amravati division and Wardha and Nagpur), the share of MEGS expenditure from the state’s total MEGS expenditure decreased from 14.4 per cent in 2000-01 to 6 per cent in 2003-04. This is much lower than the region’s share of rural poor (23 per cent) or its share of rural population (17 per cent). The region’s share of item-wise expenditure between 2000-01 and 2003-04 was 4.2 per cent for agriculture, 6.5 per cent for irrigation and 13.0 per cent for horticulture. In particular, it reflects poor intervention in works associated with developing agriculture either directly or indirectly through interventions in irrigation and horticulture.

What is intriguing is that in Yavatmal, the expenditure on establishment as a share of total expenditure in the state is greater than the district’s share of rural population. In Wardha the total expenditure under MEGS in 2003-04 as also 2004-05, a deficient rainfall year, was either on establishment or on miscellaneous accounts only. These observation are in line with the findings mentioned in a recent study that MEGS has been successful as a relief measure largely concentrated in the drought-prone areas of Marathwada and western Maharashtra divisions of the state and has had a limited success as a poverty eradication measure [Vatsa 2005].

III Micro Level Analysis

This is based on a field survey largely conducted in Wardha, Washim and Yavatmal districts. The village were identified based on a list of farmers’ suicides for 2004 and a few cases for January 2005.7 Data from 111 suicide case (one Amravati, 21 Wardha, 29 Washim and 60 Yavatmal) and 106 non-suicide control households spread across 105 villages form the basis of our analysis. In our sample from suicide cases, 91 per cent were males, 55 per cent in the age group of 31-50 years, and 80 per cent were currently married.

On educational status, 21 per cent were illiterate, 14 per cent were literate but below primary level, 26 per cent completed primary education but were below matriculation and the rest were with higher education. On experience in farming, 24 per cent had less than five years, 18 per cent had about 6-10 years and the remains 58 per cent had more than 10 years of experience.

The three main castes are Kunbis (31 per cent), Banjaras (16 per cent) and Baudh (9 per cent). Kunbis are the predominant peasant community in the selected districts and Banjaras have a substantial presence in Yavatmal and Karanja subdivision of Washim. The size-class of land shows that 14 per cent are marginal (0-2.5 acres), 39 per cent are small (2.5-5 acres), 21 per cent semi-medium (5-10 acres), 15 per cent medium (10-20 acres), 4 per cent are large (20 + acres) and 7 per cent have not given information on their landownership.

Superimposing aggregate caste and land-size categories on the agricultural census of 1995-96, the differences in the ratios were not statistically significant. Nevertheless, we elucidate the following patterns. For all size-class of land, the ratios indicate relatively higher suicides among the scheduled castes (SCs) and scheduled tribes (STs) and lower among “other” castes. For all castes, the ratio of sample to population proportion indicates relatively higher suicides among the marginal size-class and small size-class of farmers and lower suicides among the “other” size-class of farmers.

In 79 per cent of the cases, suicides were committed by consuming insecticides. These proportions are higher than that indicated for the overall population in the selected districts. This is so because of the easy accessibility in farming households (particularly, those cultivating cotton) to pesticides.8 A hospital that can treat emergencies like poisoning is on an average more than 20 km away (particularly, in Washim and Yavatmal). This means that the time taken to reach a treatment centre in these hilly regions can easily be more than an hour. This delay can prove fatal. Restriction on availability and toxic content of pesticides and access to early treatment are important policy parameters. Important policy lessons can be taken from Sri Lanka’s experience [Gunnell and Eddleston 2003].9

Table 4: Risk Factors Identified with Deceased Individual

Risk Factors N=111 Per Cent

Was the deceased indebted? 96 86.5 Did his economic status deteriorate before the incident? 82 73.9 Did the deceased not share problems with other

family members? 61 55.0 Was there a crop failure? 45 40.5 Was there a change in his social position before

the incident? 40 36.0 Did the deceased have a daughter/sister of

marriageable age? 38 34.2 Was there any suicide in the nearby villages recently? 36 32.4 Did the deceased have any addictions? 31 27.9 Was there a change in the deceased’s behaviour

before the incident? 29 26.1 Did the deceased have disputes with neighbours or others? 26 23.4 Did the deceased have some health problem? 23 20.7 Did any death occur in the family recently before

the incident? 11 9.9 Has there been any suicide previously in the family? 7 6.3 Are some other family members chronically ill/handicapped? 4 3.6 Average number of risk factors 4.8 Minimum number of risk factors 2 Maximum number of risk factors 9

Note: N indicates number of households. The risk factors are not mutually exclusive, and hence, will not add up to 100 per cent.

Source: Field Survey.

Economic and Political Weekly April 22, 2006

A suicide is the complex interplay of multiple factors. A number of risk factors can coexist and one particular individual can come across all or none of the risk factors identified by us. In our sample, the minimum number of risk factors is two and the maximum is nine. The most common was indebtedness (86 per cent). From all those indebted, 44 per cent were harassed for repayment of loans and in 33 per cent of cases the creditor insisted on immediate repayment (Table 4). Next in importance is the fall in economic position (74 per cent). Indebtedness per se will not lead to a fall in economic position, but if it reaches a stage that will lead to a sale of assets then it can be associated with a fall in economic position. Similarly, a fall in economic position can also lead to greater reliance on credit and thereby increasing the debt burden.

In 55 per cent of cases, it was observed that the individual concerned had not discussed his/her problem with other family members. He/she was shouldering the entire burden that was troubling him and was not sharing his/her difficulties with others. An avenue for letting out one’s pent up feelings and frustration was closed.

Crop failure was mentioned in 40 per cent of the cases and most of these also mentioned a loss in second or third sowing due to delay in rainfall. There were a few cases which mention fire or theft. Crop loss can also happen due to excessive untimely rain, say, during the harvest. Crop failure can lead to economic downfall and make it difficult to repay existing loans. This will also increase the need for additional credit. Crop failure leading to a fall in economic position is quite straight forward, but the causal links can also be the other way round. A household faced with a downfall in economic position or with greater debt burden could not take additional loans for investing in agriculture (say, during a pest attack) and this can lead to a reduction in yield or total crop failure.

Change in social status was identified in 36 per cent of the cases. This can be associated with a fall in economic position. Harassment by creditors or their agents due to non-payment of loans can also lead to social disgrace. Crop failure due to unsuccessful experimentation by a farmer who was recognised as successful entrepreneur may find a change in his social status

– people who earlier came for advice are now providing solace.

A socially important role of a brother/father is to get one’s sister/daughter married. Communities have norms in terms of age and expenditure.10A farmer is largely dependent on a good return from his produce to fulfil this obligation. Thus, crop failure, greater credit burden or a fall in his economic position can come in his way of fulfilling this obligation. Inability to conduct a sister’s/daughter’s marriage can be socially humiliating. It can also increase intra-household conflicts. To complete this social obligation a farmer may also take loans thinking that he can repay the amount after the harvest. The recent marriage of a sister/ daughter or inability to get one’s sister/daughter married has been identified as a risk factor in 34 per cent of the cases.

We have also taken note of recent suicides in a nearby village and identified them as an additional risk factor in 32 per cent of the cases. This was done because an individual who is facing some similar socio-economic problem can relate to the earlier incident and contemplate suicide. There could be an imitation effect.11 Addiction (particularly, alcohol) was identified in 28 per cent of the cases. It is said that under intoxication an individual may indulge in an act of self-harm without being aware of the consequences. Alternatively, getting intoxicated could itself be a reaction to get out of depression that can be associated with some socio-economic problem.

Change in the individual’s behaviour was identified in 26 per cent of the cases. These are symptoms and indicate that the individual needs some psycho-social help. Dispute with neighbours/ others in the villages was identified in 24 per cent of the cases. This could be related with property disputes or an altercation leading to a social humiliation. Or, it could be a part of his changed behaviour indicating that he needs some help.

The personal health problem of the deceased was identified in 21 per cent of the cases. From these, 26 per cent (six cases) were those who were perceived by others’ with some mental health problem. Illness gets aggravated due to a poor economic condition because it makes care seeking difficult. Similarly, ill health can lead to a loan to meet medical expenses and also reduce the ability to work aggravating the economic condition. If the sick person is some other member (3 per cent of the cases) then the breadwinner has the added frustration and helplessness in not being able to provide appropriate care for an ailing parent/ spouse/child. Death of another member in the family before the incident was identified in 10 per cent of the cases. The near one’s death could have been because of not receiving appropriate healthcare. Inability to provide care is largely because of the poor economic condition rooted in the larger agrarian crisis.

Suicide history in the family could be identified in 6 per cent of the cases. This could be indicative of a genetic factor. However, as mentioned earlier such individual factors are predisposing in nature and they can be intensified with some additional risk factors.

Being indebted has been one of the most important risk factors, but then this may not reveal much about the extent of debt burden. Comparing suicide case with non-suicide control households shows that the average outstanding debt is higher in the former by 3.5 times and after normalising for family size or land size it is higher by three times and all these differences are statistically significant (Table 5).

Table 5: Average Outstanding Debt per Household

Household Debt Suicide Cases Amount N Non-Suicide Controls Amount N
All * Per person* Per acre* 38444 7224 7079 101 101 94 10910 2405 2365 95 95 90

Notes: N=number of households. * Difference between suicide cases and non-suicide controls is statistically significant at 95 per cent CI. Source: Field Survey.

Table 6: Average Outstanding Debt per Transactionacross Source

Source Suicide Cases Non-Suicide Controls
Amount N Amount N
Cooperative bank 30466 50 13756 26
Rural bank 11314 7 40800 4
Commercial bank 95000 4 11500 1
Moneylender 22080 60 11973 26
Friends/relatives 16268 28 2000 2
Self-help group Trader 4500 5000 2 2 14000 20000 1 1
Landlord/employer 4000 2 10000 1
Others 12571 7 16089 9
Not available 5000 1 - -
Total 23821 163 14598 71

Note: N indicates the number of transactions with outstanding debt. The transactions are from 93 suicide cases and 55 non-suicide controls. Source: Field Survey.

The 95 suicide cases had outstanding debt from 163 loan transactions and 55 non-suicide controls had outstanding debt from 71 loan transactions. Thus, the average number of loans with outstanding debt in suicide cases (1.8) was higher when compared with non-suicide controls (1.3). Analysis of the source of loan indicates a greater reliance on cooperatives in the formal sector and moneylenders in the informal sector (Table 6).

The reliance on moneylenders and friends/relatives is higher for suicide cases (54 per cent of 163 transactions) than non-suicide controls (39 per cent of 71 transactions). A very high amount is indicated for suicide case households under commercial bank because a large farmer (owning 28 acres) having an outstanding loan of Rs 2.5 lakh which was incurred for marriage in the family (in fact, the individual had taken a loan of Rs 5 lakh and had already returned Rs 2.5 lakh). After excluding this extreme case, the distribution of total outstanding debt indicates that 42 per cent is from cooperative banks, 36 per cent is from moneylenders and 13 per cent is from friends/relatives. In non-suicide control households, after excluding a loan transaction with outstanding debt of Rs 98,200 from a rural bank, the distribution of total outstanding debt indicates that 38 per cent is from cooperative banks, 33 per cent is from moneylenders and 15 per cent is from other unspecified informal sources.

The purpose of loan is given in Table 7. After excluding the transactions where the purpose is not available, 67 per cent in the suicide cases and 89 per cent in the non-suicide controls are for agricultural purposes only. This proportion further increases if we take into consideration transactions from formal sources only.

Next to agriculture is marriage, which is mostly from informal sources. For each specific purpose the number of transactions with outstanding debt and the average outstanding debt per transaction is higher among suicide case households when compared with non-suicide control households. The average amount of outstanding debt per transaction for agricultural purposes is greater than Rs 10,000. For marriage, after excluding an extreme observation with outstanding debt of Rs 2,50,000 from a commercial bank by a suicide case household, the gap is Rs 2,324 only. There was one suicide case household where a loan for health expenditure was to the tune of Rs 1.5 lakh. From total outstanding debt (including those where the purpose is not available), agriculture being the sole purpose accounts for 65 per cent of the outstanding debt in suicide case households and 79 per cent in non-suicide control households. Marriage being the sole purpose accounts for 18 per cent of the total outstanding debt in suicide case households (reduces to 13 per cent if we exclude the extreme case of Rs 2.5 lakh outstanding debt from a commercial bank); it is 10 per cent of the total outstanding debt among non-suicide control households.

The total outstanding debt from suicide cases is 3.7 times more than the total outstanding debt from non-suicide controls. Compared to non-suicide controls, the suicide cases have a greater proportion of outstanding debt that is more than one year old (74 per cent and 65 per cent respectively) and for 2004, the most recent year, a greater proportion of outstanding debt is from informal sources (72 per cent for suicide cases and 38 per cent for non-suicide controls).

Comparison of suicide cases with non-suicide controls also indicate that on average the former have a lower proportion than that which owns bullocks (a productive and liquid asset), relatively greater family size (particularly, female members) and lower value of produce (Table 8). The relevance of bullocks to the agrarian economy as a productive asset in Indian agriculture is also well known [see Vaidyanathan 1988 among others]. Bullocks are the major means of ploughing, an act that depends on rain and has to be done within a short span before sowing. Hiring of bullocks or tractors will increase costs and the latter may not be as effective in these dry land rain-dependent conditions. Bullocks are also used as a liquid asset that is sold under distress conditions. Thus, the absence of bullocks may be a reflection of the hardship that the household has been facing. It was observed that suicide case households had on average a lower ownership of bullocks as well as other livestock, agricultural implements, consumer durables and access to basic amenities. These get further compounded with a crop failure or poor yield leading to a lower value of produce. If this also happens to be a family with a daughter or sister of marriageable age then the social responsibility would further add to the burden.

A statistical exercise is done to compare case-control households. Households suicide status is a binary dependent variable, Y; 1=case and 0=control. The independent variables, Xi’s, are outstanding debt in rupees, a yes/no binary variable on ownership of bullocks, family size, value of produce in rupees and value of produce per acre of landowned in rupees. Using these, we estimate a step-wise logistic regression,12

ln[p/(1-p)]=α+βiXi+u; i=1,…5. where ln is natural logarithm, p is probability of obtaining a suicide case household, ln[p/(1-p)] is the log odds ratio of a suicide case household, α is a coefficient on the constant term, βi’s are the coefficients of the five independent variables, Xi’s, and u is error term.

Table 7: Average Outstanding Debt per Transaction by Source across Purpose/Year of Loan

Purpose/Year Suicide Cases Non-Suicide Controls
Formal N Informal N Total N Formal N Informal N Total N
Agriculture 28861 49 20660 53 24600 102 18475 26 11353 30 14660 56
Marriage Others 250000 42261 1 5 27324 12492 17 24 39694 17624 18 29 -6000 -2 25000 21000 4 5 25000 16714 4 7
Not available 17833 6 5125 8 10571 14 13333 3 11700 5 12313 8
2005, January-March - - 7760 5 7760 5 - - 50000 1 50000 1
2004 18427 15 16273 44 16821 59 17562 13 9629 14 13448 27
2003 29333 18 15722 27 21167 45 10080 7 14955 11 13059 18
2002 18810 11 22588 17 21104 28 17083 6 9614 7 13062 13
2001 38560 5 21000 4 30756 9 22500 2 15000 5 17143 7
2000 and earlier 64050 8 200000 1 79156 9 28667 3 - - 28667 3
Not available 66500 4 13250 4 39875 8 - - 6250 2 6250 2
Total 32500 61 18630 102 23821 163 17173 31 12603 40 14598 71
Note: N indicates the number of transactions with outstanding debt. Source: Field Survey.
Economic and Political Weekly April 22, 2006 1543

While discussing results, instead of coefficients, odds ratio, eβi, are given because the interpretation is more intuitive – for a unit increase in the independent variable there would be a corresponding change in the odds ratio (probability of a suicide case/probability of a non-suicide control).

The result for complete case-control analysis of the 68 pairs of observation is as follows. It gives outstanding debt and absence of bullocks as statistically significant variables that differentiate suicide case from non-suicide control households (Table 9). It suggests that if outstanding debt increases by Rs 1,000 then the odds that the household is one with a suicide victim increases by 6 per cent and if the household owns bullocks then the odds that it is a household with a suicide victim decreases by 65 per cent. When we estimate the results for the three selected districts independently, then under different scenarios family size, value of produce, and land size turn out to be statistically significant in explaining the differences.

IV Concluding Remarks

Maharashtra’s age-adjusted suicide mortality rate for males has stabilised in the range of 20-21 from 2001 onwards and that for females has been declining after 1999. The SMR for farmers have increased by nearly four times from 15 in 1995 to 57 in 2004. It is the highest in Amravati division where SMR for male farmers was 116 during 2001-04, which was more than eight times the age-adjusted SMR for males in India in 2001.

Table 8: Comparing Control Cases by Average Household Characteristics

Average Characteristic Suicide Cases Non-Suicide Controls Value N Value N

Own bullocks ( per cent)* 42.9 105 63.5 104 Value of produce (Rs 000) 22.9 93 41.4 90 Value of produce per Acre (Rs 000) 3.4 93 6.5 90 Family size 5.53 111 5.08 106

Notes: N=number of households. * Difference between suicide cases and non-suicide controls is statistically significant at 95 per cent confidenceinterval.

Source: Field Survey.

Table 9: Results (Odds Ratio) of Step-wise Logistic Regression Analysis

Complete Wardha Washim Yavatmal Case-Control Analysis

N 136 24 32 80 Debt 1.000061 1.000237 1.00009 1.000055 (0.0000138) (0.0000974) (0.0000383) (0.0000176)

[0.000] [0.015] [0.019] [0.002]

Own bullocks 0.3462934 0.3084751 (0.1403603) (0.1685215)

[0.009] [0.031]

Family size 2.124579 (0.8003213)


Value produce 0.9997406 (0.0001221)


Value per acre 0.9997575 (0.0001234)

[0.049]Log likelihood -74.6497 -5.4993989 -16.388205 -42.176024 LR Chi2 39.24 22.27 11.59 26.55 Prob >Chi2 0.0000 0.0000 0.0031 0.0000 PseudoR2 0.2081 0.6694 0.2612 0.2394

Notes: Round brackets give standard error, square brackets give prob > |z|. The variables are indicated in the order in which they were selected inthe step-wise logistic regression. In Wardha, estimation was possible after excluding the variable value of produce per acre.

Gross value addition is relatively higher for fruits and vegetables and sugar cane, but these crops are not grown in the selected districts. Traditionally, cotton has been the cash crop for farmers of the districts. Over the years, profitability from cotton has declined. Some of the reasons are: high subsidies by the US leading to price distortions, low import tariffs in India,and failure of the MCPS in Maharashtra. The withdrawal of the state is evident from declining public investment in agriculture, poor government agricultural extension service, and a diminishing role of formal institutions in rural financial market among others. The farmer now depends on the input dealer for advice leading to supplier-induced demand and on informal sources of credit with a greater interest burden. To add to this, 2004 was a rain deficient year that affected yield in at least some pockets of the selected districts, but the overall macro supply scenario being good, market prices were low. The farmer was exposed to yield and price shocks simultaneously. In short, the systemic risk factors indicate a larger socio-economic and agrarian crisis.

In the micro-level analysis, the inter-related and coexisting socio-economic risk factors identified are indebtedness, deterioration of economic status, conflict with other members in the family, crop failure, a decline in social position, burden of daughter’s/sister’s marriage, suicide in a nearby village, addictions, change in behaviour of the deceased, dispute with neighbours/others, health problems, a recent death in the family, history of suicide in the family and other family members being ill. Comparing suicide cases and non-suicide controls, one observes that on an average the former have a higher outstanding debt, a relatively lower owner ownership of assets (particularly, bullocks which is a productive and liquid asset) and access to basic amenities, a larger family size (particularly, female members), and a lower value of produce. These indicate that the idiosyncratic factors do not occur in isolation – they are exacerbated because of the larger socio-economic and agrarian crisis.

The policy implication from the above discussion calls for an emphasis on the larger agrarian crisis. Availability of affordable credit requires revitalisation of the rural credit market. Risk management should address yield, price, credit, income or weather related uncertainties among others. Improving water availability will facilitate diversification of the cropping pattern, but this should go hand in hand with policies that increase non-farm employment. Improving agricultural extension that addresses deskilling because of technological changes and also facilitates appropriate technical know-how for alternative forms of cultivation such as organic farming will be of help. There is a strong case for regulating private credit and input markets. Public health interventions would require improving access to treatment of poisoning cases and psychosocial care. This should be complemented with policies that reduce the access to organo-phosphorous poisons. Besides, support from public institutions, there is need for a greater involvement from civil society.




[This paper draws largely on the report, Suicide of Farmers in Maharashtra funded by the government of Maharashtra. Many people helped in the study and the detailed acknowledgements are in the report, but the cooperation of the individuals interviewed (particularly, the members of the suicide case households) needs special mention. The author thanks R Radhakrishna for giving him this responsibility and, more importantly, for his comments andsuggestions at various stages of the work and D Narasimha Reddy for comments on an earlier version of this paper.]

1 Some of the recent studies include Assadi (1998), Bhalla et al (1998), Chowdry et al (undated), Dandekar et al (2005), Deshpande (2002), Government of Andhra Pradesh (2004), Government of Maharashtra (1998), Iyer and Manick (2000), Mishra (2006a, 2006b), Mohan Rao(2004), Mohanty (2001, 2005), Mohanty and Shroff (2004), Parthasarathy and Shameem (1998), Purendra Prasad (2003), Revathi (1998), Shambhu Prasad (1999), Shiva et al (2000), Stone (2002) and Vasavi (1999) among others.

2 There is under-reporting because of legal hassles and shame identified with the act. 3 Medically, suicide is not defined for the age group of 0-4 years. Hence, 5+ population is used to compute the age-adjusted SMR.

4 For a recent discussion on Maharashtra’s growth and poverty see Mishra and Panda (2006). For Maharashtra’s agricultural development till early 1990s see Sawant et al (1999). For agrarian scenario in selected districts of Vidarbha see Kulkarni and Deshpande (2006). On public interventionbacklogs, a dated but comprehensive analysis is the Dandekar committee report on Regional Imbalance [Government of Maharashtra 1984].

5 The MSP is declared by ministry of agriculture, government of India.

6 The additional advance price has been discontinued from 2005-06 leading to drastic fall in the prices received by the farmer when costs are likely to have further increased.

7 Occurrence of suicide, a rare event, was the basis for selecting a village. In the village we surveyed the suicide case household, a control household, conducted a focus group discussion and also collected some village level information before moving over to another village. The distance from one village to another, more often than not, was 20-30 km.

8 The greater incidence of poisoning in farming households, particularlyduring the peak agricultural season, has been mentioned in Bhatkule (2006) among others.

9 A recent study suggests that pesticides are not only agents for suicide, but are also part of the causal pathway [London et al 2005]. Exposure to organophosphorous pesticides can affect the central nervous system which in turn can lead to depression and subsequently suicide.

10 In our selected region, instances of females getting married before 18 years of age are prevalent. Marriage expenditure would depend on the economic position of the household and FGDs indicate it to be around Rs 20,000-Rs 40,000 only for marginal/small farmers. With such a small amount, it is not the social custom of marriage but the poor returns from agriculture that becomes relevant.

11 Suicide contagion also increases the responsibility of media and guidelines by the World Health Organisation on suicide reportage would be of help [Mishra 2006b]. This is not to deny the important role that media played in highlighting the issue of farmers’ suicides. For a media perspective, see Deshpande (2006) among others.

12 In the step-wise procedure, a variable is added if it increases chi-squaresignificance by 0.05 and it is dropped if it increases chi-square significance by 0.1.


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    Economic and Political Weekly April 22, 2006

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