In farmer suicide-ridden Vidarbha, a simple festival of seeds is helping save livesThink Change India
Suicides committed by farmers in India is news that we have unfortunately become used to hearing. However, amidst all of this, there is an event that has been organised for the past few years that aims at preventing farmer suicides. This event is called the 'Beejotsav', and it is being organised by the Beejotsav group. The Beejotsav is an exhibition-cum-sale of seed diversity, farm produce, and books, where the guests can also interact with the farmers. The next event is going to be held from April 7 to April 9, 2017, in Nagpur.
The number of suicides being committed by farmers in Vidarbha every year has been a matter of shame for our nation for quite some time now. The highest number of suicides were committed by farmers in Maharashtra between 1995 and 2013, according to P. Sainath. The number of suicides that took place in this period was 60,750. There were about 3,685 farmers who killed themselves, on an average, every year. As unbelievable as it may sound, this means that there were over ten farmers who were taking their own lives every day over this period of ten years.
There were a number of underlying reasons for these suicides: National agricultural policies, Minimum Support Price (MSP) debacle, the high costs of inputs like seeds, fertilisers, and pesticides, and expensive Genetically Modified (GM) cotton, among many others. The effects of these factors became adverse due to climate change, droughts, reduced micro nutrients in the soil, and increased pest attacks.
Genetically Modified (GM) cotton was an initiative that purported to resolve a number of problems. Soon, GM cotton accounted for 90 percent of the total cotton cultivation in the country, largely used in states like Gujarat, Maharashtra, and Andhra Pradesh. However, the long term disadvantages that might accompany its use were not fully thought out.
Whether it is the high cost of seeds, which makes it more difficult for the low-scale farmers to buy it, or the fact that these seeds are non-reusable, GM cotton has not been without its drawbacks. Earlier, the farmers always kept a part of their produce to reuse as seeds next year, but that was no longer possible. Though the yields are much larger with the GM cotton, farmers still feel that the returns are not satisfactory as per their investment. The market situation and the inability to pay their debts has resulted in stress among many farmers. Many of them have committed suicide for that same reason.
It is important to understand that agriculture is still the primary sector in the country and a source of livelihood for many Indians. This is what the Beejotsav group has understood, and the purpose of the events organised by them aligns with this thought. The hope is that it will inspire others and that many such initiatives will be taken up to ensure that people never become "used to" the regular horror of farmer suicides.