NOTE: Bt cotton was first released for commercial growing in India in 2002, and this front page article on Indian farm suicides notes that, "The data [on farm suicides] show clearly that the last eight years were much worse than the preceding eight." 

This is the latest article on this topic by the award-winning Indian journalist P Sainath, a fearless chronicler of rural poverty. In other articles, Sainath has called the impact of Monsanto in Maharashtra - the Indian State with the largest share of the farm suicides – "devastating". And he's called Monsanto's massive hyping of expensive Bt cotton to India's debt-burdened dryland farmers: "murderous... stupid... killing".
In 16 years, farm suicides cross a quarter million
The Hindu, October 29 2011

*Past eight years show rising trend

[image caption: The Hindu Marutrao Dhoke looks at the mangalsutra of his wife Babytai, the main farmer of their household, who had pawned it to raise cash before committing suicide. A January 2011 photograph by P. Sainath.]

It's official. The country has seen over a quarter of a million farmers’ suicides between 1995 and 2010. The National Crime Records Bureau’s latest report on ‘Accidental Deaths & Suicides in India’ places the number for 2010 at 15,964. That brings the cumulative 16-year total from 1995 – when the NCRB started recording farm suicide data – to 2,56,913, the worst-ever recorded wave of suicides of this kind in human history.

Maharashtra posts a dismal picture with over 50,000 farmers killing themselves in the country's richest State in that period. It also remains the worst State for such deaths for a decade now. Close to two-thirds of all farm suicides have occurred in five States: Maharashtra, Karnataka, A.P., Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh.

The data show clearly that the last eight years were much worse than the preceding eight. As many as 1,35,756 farmers killed themselves in the 2003-10 period. For 1995-2002, the total was 1,21,157. On average, this means the number of farmers killing themselves each year between 2003 and 2010 is 1,825 higher than the numbers that took their lives in the earlier period. Which is alarming since the total number of farmers is declining significantly. Compared to the 1991 Census, the 2001 Census saw a drop of over seven million in the population of cultivators (main workers). The corresponding census data for 2011 are yet to come in, but their population has surely dipped further. In other words, farm suicides are rising through the period of India's agrarian crisis, even as the number of farmers is shrinking.

While the 2010 numbers show a dip of 1,404 from the 2009 figure of 17,368, there is little to cheer about. “There was a similar dip in 2008, only to be followed by the worst numbers in six years in 2009,” points out Professor K. Nagaraj, an economist at the Asian College of Journalism, Chennai, who did the largest ever study of the farm suicides covering a decade (The Hindu, November 12-15, 2007). “This one-year decline does not in any way indicate we have turned the corner. This dip happened mostly because of one-off falls in Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh. In fact, a look at the ‘Big 5' who drive the numbers shows the fallout of the agrarian crisis to be as grim as ever. They have actually increased their share of the farm suicides.”