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Financial stress, poor health care: Main factors driving farmers to suicide

The ongoing stir in some states demanding loan waiver has seen a number farmers committing suicide

BS Web Team & Agencies  |  New York 

Farmers at a potato farm in Punjab

Besides financial issues, which push many to commit suicide, especially during economic crises or periods of extreme weather, there also are several other factors that might drive to take the extreme step, shows a study.

At a time when there has been a string of suicides by in India, some of them during the ongoing stir across many states to demand loan waiver,  a study co-authored by Corinne Peek-Asa, professor at the University of Iowa, College of Public Health, in the US, lists occupational factors like poor access to health care, isolation, and financial stress as some of the main drivers of farmer suicides. These factors continue to place farmers at a disproportionately high risk for suicide," the study says.

The ongoing farmers' stir in India began in Uttar Pradesh, demanding for huge farm loan waivers, and slowly spread to other states. After UP CM Yogi Adityanath announced a Rs 30,000-crore farm loan waiver, Maharasthra followed suit with an even bigger loan waiver, estimated at Rs 35,000 crore. Protests in Mandasur district of Madhya Pradesh, however, turned violent and five people were killed in police firiing.

Farmers face an array of stresses, other than financial issues, that put them at high risk of suicide -- physical isolation from a social network leading to loneliness, physical pain from the arduous work of farming and lack of available health care in rural areas, especially mental health care, according to the study published in the Journal of Rural Health.

Other research also suggests that exposure to chemical insecticides causes depression in some people, Peek-Asa said.

In addition, she said, farm culture dictates that farmers who may have physical or psychological needs should just suck it up and go about their work.

Finally, farmers have access to lethal means because many of them own weapons. The rifle they use to chase off animals can easily be turned on themselves.

Moreover, farmers are different from workers in most other fields in that their work is a significant part of their identity, not just a job. When the farm faces difficulties, many see it as a sign of personal failure, Peek-Asa said.

"They struggle with their ability to carve out the role they see for themselves as farmers. They can't take care of their family; they feel like they have fewer and fewer options and can't dig themselves out," Peek-Asa said.

"Eventually, suicide becomes an option," she added.

The study examined suicides and homicides among farmers and agricultural workers across the US from 1992 to 2010 and found 230 farmers committed suicide during that time, an annual suicide rate that ranged from 0.36 per 100,000 farmers to 0.95 per 100,000.

The rate is well above that of workers in all other occupations, which never exceeded 0.19 per 100,000 during the same time period.

Policy solutions to prevent farmer suicides should include improving rural economies, increasing social networks, and improving access to health care and mental health services in rural areas, according to the researchers.

First Published: Tue, June 13 2017. 17:20 IST