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Agricultural Problems Lead to Farmer Suicides in India

Farming in India has become difficult and costly, leading to thousands of farmers taking their own lives. The NewsHour reports on why the industry has become so challenging and what farmers are doing to get through this tough period.

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  • FRED DE SAM LAZARO, NewsHour Correspondent:

    It should be a joyful time when the harvest comes in, but in the cotton-growing region of Vidarbha, there's not much to cheer.

  • VITTAL SHINDE, Farmer (through translator):

    It's been two days now. I've been eating in the restaurant nearby, and I've been buying straw for the bulls and sleeping here on the cart. It's of no use because we are not getting good prices.


    At the market where traders and growers haggle over quality and price, farmers like Vittal Shinde hang on in vain hope of better offers.

  • VITTAL SHINDE (through translator):

    They're offering 1,900 rupees. I need 2,700 rupees per hundredweight to be profitable. Last year, I got 2,000, so last year, too, I lost money.


    Two thousand rupees is about $45 U.S. dollars for every 200 pounds of cotton, about a third less than his break-even point. But others are even worse off: Many farmers, like Thulsiram Mandre, have little to take to market.

  • THULSIRAM MANDRE, Farmer (through translator):

    See this flour? Normally it's at least double this size. The seedling is dying; so many seeds are stunted.


    And an alarming number of others have lost harvest and all hope.

    The day we arrived at her small home, neighbors gathered with Krisnabhai Tekham, the quiet interrupted by the sobs of mourners. A day earlier, Krisnabhai had buried her husband, Dalap, who committed suicide.

  • KRISNABHAI TEKHAM (through translator):

    He came home from the field, and he collapsed. His mouth was smelling of pesticide, so we put him on a cart and took him to the hospital in town, but he died on the way.


    Dalap Tekham leaves a young daughter, his 38-year-old widow, and her elderly father, whose land he also used to plant.

  • INDIAN FARMER (through translator):

    The crop has just dried up. We have so much debt, my son-in-law couldn't pay it. I have no idea how we can deal with it now.


    In an unmarked grave some two miles from where he lived, Dalap Tekham was laid to rest. He added one to a grim tally. Here in the Vidarbha region of central India, some 1,300 cotton farmers took their own lives in 2006. That works out to a suicide rate of one every eight hours.

    To find out what's driving so many farmers over the edge, we talked to Thulsiram Mandre, who says he is close to that edge.

  • THULSIRAM MANDRE (through translator):

    At the most from cotton, I may make 60,000 rupees this year. That's not enough to pay for fertilizer, for family expenses, then loan payments. There's nothing left. I didn't pay back one penny to the bank last year.