45-year-old Prakash Gadhe is standing in his five-acre wheat field in Ahmad Nagar district.
He picks up a bunch of plants, which are almost ripe... looks at them with wistful eyes... and cries.
“It’s all gone, I’m ruined. I thought I would pay back my bank loan with this. I took out a loan five years ago and spent every penny of it on this land. I couldn’t pay it back, but this time the crop was so good I thought my problems were over…. but look what’s happened. Now I can’t do anything, I’ve nothing left.”
Unseasonal rains and hailstorms hit parts of Maharashtra and neighbouring states last month... destroying the entire winter crop - nearly 2 million hectares of land.
The damage is estimated to be worth more than a billion US dollars.
In the neighbouring district of Sholapur, Babaso Awtade couldn’t take the pressure... and ended his life with poison.
His son, 35-year-old Gyaneshwar Awtade, is still grieving.
“He was very tense. We suffered huge losses and are heavily in debt. He was always thinking about the loan and it frustrated him because we have no other source to fall back on. He couldn’t take the pressure and almost lost his mind and finally committed suicide.”
Local media reported nearly 40 other farmers have committed suicide after losing their crops in the past month.
But according to the government, this figure is as low as 10..
For farmer leaders like Jayaji Suryavanshi, the actual figure is much higher.
“We know of 29 suicides from just a few areas and these happened in the first week alone. The storm has affected the entire state and completely destroyed crops. It’s an emergency and the figures are clearly under-reported.”
The state witnessed a series of suicides following crop losses last year as well... but that time it was due to severe drought.
Agricultural expert Subhash Palekar blames global warming for the erratic weather conditions.
“The United Nations Inter-governmental Panel on Climate change has already warned us in its latest report that global warming is going to hit us harder in terms of human health, food-grain production and water resources, and we can see the ill-effects in all three areas right in front of us. The main reason for this is that we have destroyed the system of natural farming.”
But for local farmers, this is not about the weather.
The National Crime Records Bureau has recorded nearly 300 thousand suicides amongst farmers since 1995.
Farmers’ groups say it’s a serious agrarian crisis largely ignored by the government.
Chengal Reddy is the Secretary General of the Consortium of Indian Farmers’ Associations.
“It is a total collapse of political institutions, especially the central government, the state governments and the political parties because most of these people do not understand why this is happening. It is a basic policy deficiency of the government of India with regard to agriculture, be it credit, crop insurance, exports or pricing system. How come you are raising 8-10 percent the so called claim of Industrial and service sector growth but in agricultural sector it is negative.”
Agriculture provides livelihoods to nearly 70 percent of India’s population.
And according to India’s state policy, agriculture is the backbone of the national economy.
But experts say investment in this sector has been declining rapidly.
Nikhil Dey is from the National Campaign for People’s Right to Information.
“For years now we have been talking about farmers’ suicide. There’s no doubt that we do not pay attention to agricultural sector and somewhere we have to be able to give a sense of security. There’s no excuse for a failure to implement the policy.”
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