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Home   /   The Struggle for Livelihood: India’s Farmer Protests

Martha Salter reports on the farmer protests in India that have consumed international media and discusses the ongoing issues that have been brought to the attention of the Western world.

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Tens of thousands of farmers marched to the capital city of Delhi and have obstructed at least five highways, setting up camps as a performance of peaceful protest. The protests have been ongoing since November last year.

The livelihoods of farmers are at risk at the hands of new government regulations, implemented by Prime Minister, Narendra Modi. The new laws threaten to negatively impact the farming and agriculture industry and set out to deregulate the market. This is a major concern for farmers as this will allow private corporations to set prices and ultimately lead to the derailing of the traditional system – farmers have said that they feel cheated.

According to an article by Sky News, “demonstrators say the new laws around the sale, pricing and storing of produce will turn agriculture corporate, and make them vulnerable to exploitation by private companies.”

At a recent tractor rally in Ajmer district’s Rupangarh, congress leader, Rahul Gandhi said, “PM Modi said he is giving options to farmers, but the options are hunger, unemployment and suicide.”

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In the last two years, more than 20,000 farmers have died by suicide. There are a multitude of causes and explanations behind this. Farmers are said to be the “weakest link” and are hereby susceptible to exploitation of all kinds.

Since 2009, the frequency of droughts has increased by over double. Floods also account for the destroying of farmland and disruption to the agricultural industry. With increased stress on the agriculture industry due to global warming, the mental health of individuals has the potential to deteriorate and must be prioritised across the country.

With regards to the changing and unpredictable climate, the number of farmer deaths by suicide can be seen to coincide with the amount of rainfall, when there was an increase in rainfall, there were reportedly less deaths.

According to a study published in a PNAS journal, “an increase of 5°C on any one day was associated with an additional 335 deaths” and it estimates that “59,300 agricultural sector suicides over the past 30 years could be attributed to warming.”

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Another major cause for concern and undoubtable factor in the rise of farmer suicides, is how farmers are falling into increasingly larger sums of debt. Reportedly, more than half of India’s farming households are in debt. Debt is easy to fall into for farmers as they spend a large portion (up to 60%) of their annual income on pesticides. If a harvest is ruined or does not yield enough to breakeven, then any money spent on credit cannot be repaid. Workers earn around £63 per month, per farming household, which is barely enough money to live, let alone pay off debts, support families and cover the costs of other monthly expenditure.

A combination of the climate emergency, laws that set out to exploit workers and the accumulation of debt ultimately amount to farmers being negatively impacted. It is said that agricultural workers make up half of the labour force, so why is their mental health not being prioritised and monitored? Manufacturers and governments must be pressured to take responsibility for the welfare and safety of their workers, including their mental health and wellbeing.

In order to help, the government must provide access to learning opportunities and educate farmers on the various challenges and solutions regarding sustainability and the changing environment. Farmers also require more support regarding mental health and education in order to learn how to overcome issues and feel more in control. Prime Minister, Modi, must regulate and enforce laws to protect workers’ rights. Instead, he risks dismantling the industry and endangering the lives of individuals amongst some of the poorest communities in India.

Who is helping and how can we help:

Projects such as The New World Bank and Cotton Connect are working towards creating sustainable solutions and more resilient workforces against climate change.

Cotton Connect is an enterprise that connects brands and retailers to farmers to create a transparent supply chain. They have “helped transform the lives of over 675,000 people in cotton farming communities in four countries.” The enterprise delivers specialist training for women farmers and educates farmers on how to adapt their crop planning according to the changed climate cycle by “providing contextualised training for each stage of the cropping according to the local geography and climate.”

To help support the farmer protests, you can donate to Khalsa Aid International who are an on the ground team supporting farmers projects.

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