Friday, November 21, 2008

P. Sainath and Farmers' Suicides in India

P. Sainath is one of India's most exalted journalists today. Last year he was awarded a Ramon Magsaysay Award for "his passionate commitment as a journalist to restore the rural poor to India's consciousness, moving the nation to action".

I read Sainath's writing occasionally, and last week I attended a talk by him at the University of California at Berkeley.

Here are some of my thoughts on Sainath and on farmers' suicides in India - an issue with which Sainath in intimately connected.

Why Sainath is Important

Today's English educated urban upper middle class India remains almost totally ignorant of rural India. An English language journalist seriously interested in rural India is the rarest of rare creatures. It is therefore remarkable that Sainath has decided to devote his career to reporting about rural India. What is even more remarkable is that Sainath, with his passion and eloquence, has been able to successfully carve out a space for himself in the India's English language media.

For this reason alone, Sainath deserves much acclaim.

Farmers' Suicides: Why Sainath's Analysis is Deeply Flawed

Sainath is a remarkable journalist. However, he does not limit himself to reporting. Though he does not claim any special expertise as a researcher or an economist, he offers a very stark analysis of the problems of rural India. While I agree with some parts of his analysis (the existence of an agrarian crisis, the negative impact of industrialized countries' farm subsidies, etc.), I feel that much of Sainath's analysis is, sadly, deeply flawed.

Sainath's Analysis

The issue most closely associated with Sainath is farmers' suicides. According to him, the story goes as follows.
1. In recent years there has been a huge surge in farmers' suicides in rural India.
2. Farmers' suicides are driven by indebtedness.
3. Rising agricultural input costs are responsible for much of the indebtedness.
4. Corporations, freer markets, and globalization are responsible for the rise in input costs, and hence form the root cause of farmers' suicides.

Thanks largely to Sainath, the issue of farmers' suicides in India has become something of a cause celebre in the global anti-globalization movement today.

The Reality of Farmers' Suicides in India

Sainath's uses data from India's National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) to support his narrative. According to the NCRB data, the total number of suicides in India has risen from 95,829 in 1997 to 118,112 in 2006, an annual growth rate of 2.4%. Farmers' suicides have increased from 13,622 in 1997 to 17,060 in 2006, an annual growth rate of 2.5%. India's population, meanwhile, has been growning at 1.93% annually (between 1991 and 2001).

Total suicides and farmers' suicides in India (reference)

Farmers' suicides as a percentage of total suicides (reference)

It is evident from the data that the number of suicides in India - whether farmer or non-farmer - has grown only slightly over the last decade, especially when adjusted for a growing population. Farmers' suicides as a percentage of total suicides in India has remained fairly constant at around 15%.

Clearly, it is a false notion that farmers' suicide rates in India have shot up dramatically in the last few years.

Farmers' Suicides in Yavatmal District, Maharashtra

While the notion of a huge surge in farmers' suicides in India is largely false, maybe there are pockets where farmers' suicides represent a serious problem.

Let us take a closer look at Yavatmal District in the Vidarbha region of Maharashtra, considered by Sainath as the epicenter of the farmers' suicide crisis. An investigation into farmers' suicides in Yavatmal District was carried out by Meeta and Ravilochan in conjunction with the Yashwantrao Chavan Academy of Development Administration (YASHADA). The findings were published in 2006 in a book called Farmers Suicide: Facts and Possible Policy Interventions. The following are some of the points in this book.
  • Yavatmal District has the highest suicide rate in Maharashtra.
  • For the years studied, the total number of suicides in Yavatmal District was 640, 819, 832, 787 and 786, in 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, and 2004, respectively. In each of these years, suicides of farmers and agricultural workers represented 23, 24, 23, 22, and 30 percent, respectively, of all suicides.
  • The researchers conducted case studies of individual farmers' suicides in Yavatmal District. A total of 148 case studies are presented in the book. To give a flavor of these case studies, two are very briefly described below.
  1. Case 46. A 45 year old farmer who committed suicide by consuming poison in 2004. He had 3 acres of land. There was a crop loan of Rs. 3,954 taken in 2001 from the Primary Agricultural Credit Society, which remained unpaid. In 2003-04 he spent Rs. 10,000 in treating his wife who was a psychiatric patient at a private clinic.
  2. Case 120. A 50 year old farmer who committed suicide by consuming poison in 2004. He had 19 acres of land. There was an outstanding loan of Rs. 33,000 with the Bank of Maharashtra, and another outstanding loan of Rs. 8,000 from the Primary Agricultural Credit Society. In 2004 he spent Rs. 60,000 on the marriage of his second daughter. He used to drink alcohol and also gamble. He was having an affair with his bhabhi (sister-in-law). His affair had been discovered shortly before his suicide.
According to the authors of this study,
We found that while indebtedness was rampant, there was little clarity: was it disabling, to what extent, and who was responsible. On one side, indebtedness as high as 75% has been reported since the early 20th century but it was not considered disabling. On the other side, in the early 21st century, only 14% of the victims had indebtedness that resulted in alienation of land and/or animals. Moreover, we discovered that a loan from a rapacious relative rather than a bank or moneylender was often the cause of economic distress of the victim.
What comes out clearly from this study is that each suicide is a unique and complex phenomenon - the reasons and motivations are varied and multifaceted. To find a single cause, one can certainly try to look for common threads running through the suicides, but one must keep in mind that this is bound to be a substantial oversimplification of a highly complex and multidimensional phenomenon.

Implausible and Plausible Causes of Farmers' Suicides

Sainath attributes farmers' suicides to rising indebtedness. How plausible is his reasoning?

It is true that most farmers who have committed suicides have outstanding loans against them. But can that be isolated as the single most important cause for suicide? The fact is that most farmers who do not commit suicide also have outstanding loans against them. To me, factors like poor farm productivity, medical problems, social pressure to spend lavishly on a daughter's wedding, etc., seem to be at least as important as debt - if not more so - in driving people to suicide.

Sainath's further attribution of blame to economic liberalization, globalization, "the neoliberal agenda", etc., are even more implausible. As can be seen clearly from the NCRB data, the crisis of farmers' suicides is not a nationwide phenomenon, but is visible only in certain pockets. Surely it make sense to look for local factors, not just national or global ones. Nation-wide issues like growing cash crops (instead of food crops) are equally applicable to farmers in, say, Gujarat. So how come there are so few suicides among cotton farmers in Gujarat?

A much more plausible cause for cotton farmers' distress in Maharashtra is provided by Sharad Joshi, leader of the Shetkari Sanghatana, an important farmers' organization in Maharashtra. According to Joshi, the primary villain is the Maharashtra State Cotton Monopoly Procurement Scheme - a mechanism that makes the state government the sole buyer of cotton in Maharashtra, and despite generous promises, usually pays farmers less than prevailing market prices. Cotton farmers in Gujarat, who, by contrast, enjoy better access to markets, a state government that invests in infrastructure, and access to new technologies, are witnessing unprecedented prosperity.

Suicides as a Development Indicator

Every suicide is an incredibly sad event. However, a basic question that must be asked is: how valid is suicide rate as an indicator of human development?

Comparison of suicide rates

According to Jean Dreze and Amartya Sen, both eminent developmental economists,
The relevance of the suicide rate as a basic development indicator is far from clear. Indeed, many countries with high suicide rates (e.g., the Scandinavian countries) are doing extremely well in terms of overall social opportunities, and it would be quite odd to take their high suicide rates as a severe indictment of their development record. Suicide rates do correlate with specific social problems such as high rates of unemployment or divorce ... and it is quite possible that problems of this kind contribute to the high rate of suicide in Kerala. But these problems, such as they are, do not detract from Kerala's achievements in other, more fundamental fields such as health and education, just as - say - Finland's high suicide rate does not detract from its success in guaranteeing extensive social opportunities to its citizens.
Farmers' Suicide Crisis in Perspective

Sainath depicts farmers' suicides as one of the worst humanitarian crises facing India. So here are some statistics to keep things in proper perspective.

1. In 2006, 17,060 farmers committed suicide in India.

2. Every year in India some 400,000 to 500,000 children under the age of five die from diarrhea. Diarrhea and other waterborne infectious diseases can be easily prevented simply by improving the infrastructure for drinking water and sanitation.

3. In India some 35,000 people die every year from rabies, i.e., every year twice as many Indians die from rabies alone as from farmers' suicides. Rabies can be very easily prevented, simply by removing stray dogs from public areas.

4. Some 4,000 people die every year in accidents in the Mumbai Suburban Railway system alone (Mumbai city's mass transit system). This is just one example of the enormous numbers of accidents and fatalities that plague India's transportation system - a result of woefully inadequate infrastructure and a virtual absence of even basic safety features.

Such statistics (and there are many more) point to the need for more, not less, economic growth and development in India.

India's Agrarian Crisis

While I disagree with Sainath on many things, I do agree with him that India is facing an agrarian crisis.

One need not look for clues to India's agrarian crisis in suicide statistics - there are many other more obvious pointers, such as anemic growth in agricultural output. The plot below of yield-per-hectare of foodgrains in India illustrates this problem.

Foodgrains yield in India (reference)

This figure points to the issue that is at the heart of India's agrarian crisis: after a period of rapid growth during the Green Revolution, agricultural productivity in India has tapered off. As a result, farm incomes are under pressure. This is in sharp contrast to the industrial and service sectors of the economy, which are booming.

Economic Liberalization and Agriculture

In India the government started a process of economic liberalization in 1991, which aimed to move India away from a Soviet-style statist economic model to a much more free market oriented economic model. Anti-globalizers like Sainath blame economic liberalization for the agrarian crisis in India. I disagree completely. I think it is exactly the opposite - that it is not economic liberalization but rather the lack of it in the agricultural sector that is to blame. If increased economic freedom has made Indian industry boom, why should Indian agriculture be denied the same opportunity?

Below are two examples of how economic liberalization can help Indian farmers.

Consider farmland. Farming in India is not a particularly lucrative profession. It is thus no surprise that, according to a major survey, as many as 40% of Indian farmers would like to give up farming if they had a choice. I think it is important to give these farmers the liberty to monetize the most important asset that they possess - their land - and use the capital to embark on alternative ventures if they so desire. Unfortunately, India's stringent and stifling land regulations do not allow this to happen. According to Barun Mitra,
Indian industry can raise capital from the global market on the basis of a prospectus, which promises performance in the future. But Indian farmers can't raise adequate capital on the basis of the land asset which they already possess.... It is critical that the value of the land of farmers, often their only asset, is maximized, and it is made simple to capitalize. The problem facing the poor is not their poverty, but inability to capitalize their assets... Restrictions such as zoning, land ceiling and land use laws, along with unclear titles and poor land records, grossly undervalue land prices. ... The result is a greatly distorted land market. At one end, there are landowners, millions of small and marginal farmers, who can't even know the market value of their land. At the other end, there are the land mafia and speculators.
Consider farm technology. Like any other sector, to increase productivity, agriculture too needs new and innovative technologies. The good news is that recent advances in fields like biotechnology, genetic engineering, etc., offer immense promise. The bad news is that, partly in response to demands from anti-globalization groups, strict restrictions and prohibitions have been imposed on many of these new technologies.

Gail Omvedt, an American-born Indian scholar who married into a farming family in India has this to say,
Behind the appeal of the campaign is a distorted image of farmers ... which depicts them romantically but demeaningly as backward, tradition-loving, innocent and helpless creatures carrying on with their occupation for love of the land and the soil, and as practitioners of a "way of life" rather than a toilsome income-earning occupation. These imagined farmers have to be protected from market forces and the attacks of multinationals, from the seductions of commercialization and the enslavement of technologies...

Farmers may love the land they work on ... But they are people who are trying to scratch out a living, who want a better life for their children and for whom farming is a source of income and not a very good income. They are familiar with hybrid seeds ... They buy them, try them out, and refuse to use them if they do not perform... Farmers are economic actors and capable of making choices.
The way to overcome widespread poverty is to increase opportunities for people to fully utilize their own talents and abilities. I believe that if given the opportunity, most human beings will be able to overcome poverty through their own enterprise and hard work. For this, economic liberalization and better market access are vitally necessary.

This is not to suggest that the market, by itself, is the answer to all problems. Markets need to be well regulated, with regulations designed to increase choice rather than stifle initiative. And
social safety nets must accompany free markets, so that people can survive occasional downturns and bad luck, and live through the vicissitudes of "creative destruction".

Story Versus Analysis

Even though I disagree with much of Sainath's analysis, I can see where he is coming from. He is a journalist - a very good journalist - who is on the lookout for a story that a section of his audience can connect with. His urban English newspaper reading audience, immersed in a post-industrial economy, probably has very little knowledge or interest in the nuances of Maharashtra's cotton procurement system, or in serious but mundane problems like stray dogs and rabies. Maybe Sainath's anti-globalization angle is necessary to attract a certain ideologically inclined section
of the metropolitan audience.

Sadly this means that reasoned analysis is sacrificed, and good reporting is lost, in the blind rhetoric of anti-globalization.


  1. धन्‍यवाद इस विस्‍तृत लेख के लिए।

  2. Thanks for your view of the issues concerning farmers suicides. While the actual suicide rates for different countries have been compared, there is no data on the relative incidence of suicides among farmers in the different countries. Farmers are not high in the list of people committing suicides in other countries. Usually these are the depressed, drug addicted, abused etc but rarely farmers! So indeed it is a cause for concern that people who toil on a daily basis to feed the population should be so frustrated.
    Also, I do not think that farming will ever be a lucrative activity. It has ceased to be so in the developed world. The farmers in europe are land keepers who are paid by the state to feed the population at a relatively low cost. You may want to lure the farmers to other possibilities but the harsh truth is that no one wants to do this 24h 7day work that is absolutely essential to life! Do you want to get up every single day at 4AM to milk the cows?
    Such people are essential to the fabric of life and to have this section of the population competing with the depressed and lonely suiciders is a cause for concern.

  3. Bringing the market would lead to erosion of farming communities that practice inefficient methods. While this is necessary and inevitable in the long run, your view that the farmers would be able to monetize their land assets to move to other sectors is too optimistic in my opinion. Land values are inevitably connected to the agricultural productivity in rural India, which remains a agrarian society.
    Unless we have a mechanism to absorb the farmers who are not doing well, a free market does not bring more choices to the farmer. It would only encourage aggressive urban migration, which has already gone over the roof.

  4. Ashok, Thank you very much for your comment.

    Revathi, I don't know how to get the farmers' suicide rate for different countries (or even for India). However, considering that 60% of the Indian population is dependent on agriculture, 15% of total suicides being farmers' suicides does not seem out of proportion, even allowing for the fact thatthe definition of "farmer" in the suicide statistics may be more strict than justified.

    I think it would be wrong to look at farmers in some romantic manner as people who toil hard solely to "feed the population". Rather, farming should be seen as an occupation like any other occupation. And farmers, no less than you or me, should be seen as economic creatures interested in earning a good income and not just in "feeding the population". True, in Europe farming today is seen not as an economic activity, but purely as a cultural activity, an upholder of tradition, not too different from say an opera or a museum. Keep in mind that in Europe farmers form a minuscule segment of the population. In many countries, like say Australia, Brazil, Argentina, and most developing countries., farming is still a major economic activity. In India 60% of the population is engaged in agriculture. It would be wrong to see farmers romantically as repositories of culture and tradition, just part of the "fabric of life", not interested in economic advancement, but simply dependent economically on handouts from the 40% of the population who are non-farmers. Instead, farmers should be given economic freedom and opportunities for economic growth and upward mobility, just like engineers, doctors, businessmen, etc.

    Anonymous, I disagree that "bringing the market would lead to erosion of farming communities that practice inefficient methods". This is like saying that we should ban computers because there exist some people who use inefficient methods like typewriters. One cannot ban efficiency. Let different technologies be available and let people choose what they prefer. That is all that a market means. Eventually everybody benefits from advances in technology. I do recognize that safety nets are necessary. That is why I think NREGA is a very good thing - it is a very important safety net for India's rural population.

    The point about farmers being able to monetize farmland is to open up economic opportunity and avenues for upward mobility for farmers. Why should farmers be denied this opportunity? I have many opportunities to use my assets (e.g., my engineering education) for upward mobility. Why not a farmer?

  5. I am perpetually clueless about anything like this. But I am glad that I came here (via DesiPundit) and adding to my google reader.
    Hope the "detailed" analysis posts continue.
    Do you have any comments on the NREGA program or any blog post ?
    -Shriram R

  6. Shriram, thank you for your comment. I think that NREGA is an important step in the right direction. In this blog post I have advocated moving towards free markets for farmers. But I do think that steps towards free markets should be accompanied by social safety nets. And NREGA is an very important step towards a real social safety net in India.

    Generally people fall into 2 distinct camps: (1) the free market pro-globalization camp and (2) the anti-free-markets anti-globalization camp. Those in the free marker camp tend to oppose NREGA, and favor economic liberalization. Those in the anti-globalization camp tend to praise NREGA and criticize economic liberalization. I'm afraid that I am not in either one of the 2 camps. I think economic liberalization and social safety nets need to go hand in hand. In fact without economic growth and corresponding growth in tax revenues, it would be impossible to pay for large expensive safety nets like NREGA. So economic growth is a prerequisite for programs like NREGA.

    Finally, I don't think one should judge everything through ideological lenses. The practical and the empirical are more imprtant than the ideological. Those who are against NREGA because it goes against the free market ideology will always find many problems in NREGA like corruption, etc. and there is indeed scope for much improvement in NREGA. But the preliminary evidence indicates that NREGA has made some solid achievements. It was interesting to see newspaper reports about farmers in Punjab having to pay much higher wages for migrant labor from Bihar this year, caused partly by NREGA having successfully established a "floor" for wages of agricultural labor.

  7. @Siddartha - I will first read the post on NREGA on your blog. However I had done a 2 month reality check on NREG in Uttaranchal. What has happened is surprising and disappointing -
    Money is being siphoned off. However the wages problem (arising due to migration from nearby villages has been fixed)
    However the administrative machinery puts too much pressure on the Pradhan who is given additional charge on account of nothing. However when pradhan puts his 100 % the village has taken off.
    So perhaps the opinions and the results are also somewhere in between.

  8. Thanks Siddharth for taking the time to write in such a well articulated way. I often have similar issues with my ideologically minded friends, who are so convinced of causes that they refuse to look critically at the issues. If there was a debate, I am sure there could be some more arguments from the "other" side, but I don't think that would take away anything from your analysis.

  9. I have read few of Sainath's article on the agrarian crisis, but your analysis gives a completely different picture. Very interesting. I wonder what will be Sainath's reply to your analysis.

    You have any plans to send this article to him to see his response :-)

  10. Shriram, thanks for sharing your experience with NREGA in Uttarakhand. Something as large as this is bound to be accompanied by some corruption. No doubt that NREGA has many failures and many problems. However, what is surprising is that NREGA has also notched up many successes. Corruption is probably lower than in job schemes in the past. Some states (like A.P.) have done well. Anyway, there is no doubt that the result is somewhere in between.

    Sunil, thanks a lot for your comment.

    Naanthaanga, no, as of now I don't have any plans to send this article to Sainath.

  11. Great post. Clearly a case of Simpsons' Paradox at play here. Now the question remains as to how much of the rest of the suicidal population also suffered from indebtedness. This can partly answer your question about the weightage of indebtedness in occurrence of suicides.

    As for the pro-vs-anti liberalization camps, we can see more of the later in the coming years given the situation of the world economy. But then again, what anti-globalization people fail to understand is that the movement from free-market to restrictive planned economies and vice-versa will also follow a cycle, just like it would for the economy itself in a free-market situation.

  12. Very nice article. Really enjoyed reading it. However, I have a few questions.

    1) Why do you look at the
    growth rate of the entire population between 1991 and 2001 ? Isn't it more appropriate to look at the growth rate of the population of farmers ?

    2) How reliable is the NCRB data ? It is odd that the suicide rate among farmers is one-tenth of the rest of the population (60 percent of the population and only 15 percent of all suicides). One possibility is that most farmer suicides in rural India go unreported. If that is the case then the NCRB data is somewhat irrelevant, and the high suicide rates in Yavatmal district can be explained by the fact that
    it gets a lot of media attention (so almost no suicide goes unreported).

    3) How do you conclude that slowing down of agricultural productivity is putting pressure on farm incomes ? After all, the demand for food is highly inelastic. In a growing population the resulting price increase
    is more likely to increase farm incomes rather than reducing it.

  13. Scipio, thanks a lot for your comment.

    Anonymous, thanks a lot for compliment and for your very thoughtful questions. Your comment has given me a chance to add some clarifications, which I didn't do in the blog post in the interests of space and readability.

    1. The last available population growth rate number is from 2001 (the census happens every 10 years). You are right that it would be more appropriate to look at the growth rate of the population of farmers, using the same definition of "farmer" as used in the NCRB reports. However, I have no idea how to get this number. I am not sure if this number exists. One can extrapolate that the growth rate of farmers should be slightly lower than the overall population growth rate, since urbanization is increasing. One can also extrapolate that overall population growth rate between 1997 and 2006 would have been slightly less than the 1991-2001 growth rate since population growth is gradually slowing. However, I leave these extrapolations to the reader, rather than try to make extrapolations myself based on various assumptions. I do believe that the growth rate of farmers between 1997-2006 should be no more than 0.2% - 0.3% different from the 1991-2001 overall population growth rate.

    2. NCRB data is reasonably reliable. It is about as reliable and rigorous as you can get about any macro scale data in India. NCRB is under the Union Home Ministry and collects and disseminates data on crime in India (suicide being crime). NCRB data is considered sufficiently reliable for use by academics and researchers in various fields. However, there are a number of issues with farmers suicide data from the NCRB that you should be aware of:
    (a) Suicides are classified under 12 categories, viz., house wife, service (government), service (private), public sector undertaking, student, unemployed, self-employed (business activity), self-employed (professional activity), self-employed (farming/agriculture), self-employed (others), retired persons and 'others'.
    (b) Only the category "self-employed (farming/agriculture)" from the NCRB data has been used to determine the percentage of "farmers suicides" by various reporters and researchers (including Sainath). A farm wife committing suicide may be subsumed under the larger category of "housewife". Though a single woman engaged in farming her own land may be classified "self-employed (farming/agriculture)". Hence the NCRB category "self-employed (farming/agriculture)" represents a much smaller section of the overall population than the 60% who are dependent on agriculture, though what is the exact percentage is very difficult to say (it maybe impossible to reliably find this out).
    (c) The NCRB introduced the category "self-employed (farming/agriculture)" in its suicide data only in 1995, and data in this category is considered reliable only from 1997 onwards. So there is no way to go further back in history and compare long-term trends in an apples-to-apples comparison.

    3. You are absolutely right that all the media interest surrounding farmers' suicides may have played some role in the high reported rate of suicide in Yavatmal district. But do keep the following points in mind:
    (a) As reported in the book "Farmer Suicides" by Meeta and Ravilochan, even in 2000, the suicide rate in Yavatmal was higher than other districts in Maharashtra. So it was on the higher side even before the increase of the last few years, when media interest was not so high.
    (b) Even after the increase of recent years, the suicide rate in Yavatmal remains no more than the suicide rate in the entire state of Kerala or the entire country of Russia, and is much lower than some suicide hot spots. For e.g., it's only about one-fifth the suicide rate of young girls in Vellore. So even with the recent increase, the suicide rate in Yavatmal is not really astronomically high.
    (c) Besides the media, govt. policy may have also played a part. Families are eligible for compensation if a farmer commits suicide but not for a natural death. So there is a perverse incentive to report a death as suicide or for a terminally ill patient to commit suicide. There are a few such cases reported in Meeta and Ravilochan's book.
    (d) For more on the media role, see the Swaminomics columns hereand here.

    4. You are right that slowing down of agriculture yield-per-hectare is not sufficient to demonstrate pressure on farm income. The yield-per-hectare data was intended to be illustrative rather than to prove something conclusively - again done in the interests of space and readability. However, data is indeed available to show that farm income has been under pressure in India in recent years. Agricultural GDP growth has been low or even negative over the last decade - typically only 1% - 3% annually. This is lower than the rates of agricultural GDP growth witnessed since the beginning of the Green Revolution. Meanwhile, the overall GDP growth has been 8% - 9% annually. Also the migration from rural to urban areas has not been as large as the difference in rural/urban GDP growth. So the growth rate of agricultural GDP on a per-capita basis has also been lower than per-capita overall GDP growth in the last decade. (I am not giving citations here for lack of time - you can find GDP growth rates easily on the internet.)

    The solution has to be (1) increased agricultural productivity, or (2) providing non-agricultural income opportunities for those currently dependent on agriculture. Or some combination of these two.

  14. Dear Siddhartha,
    My heartiest congratulations for your blog. I read it now through agbio net- quite late!
    The almost iconic P. Sainath is really the product of the urban english educated people's guilt complex and misconcepts.
    Once I participated in a conference on intellectual property rights in the bio-technology sector- Social Welfare and IPR.- organized by Dr. M.S. Swaminathan's foundation. Sainath was an invited lecturer. Sitting in conference room adjecent to the Norman Borlough Hall I was listening to Sainath spewing venom about the outcome of Green revolution- DESTRUCTION of farmers was the only thing really achieved by Green Rev - he said.He said India has no problem of availability of food- it was only the distribution that was skewed! We don't need progress, we don't need technologies, no need of BT, GM. Market economies are evil- all that leftist ideological dogmatic outburst was going on in the presense of MSS and other Knowledgeble persons from the field of science... I asked MSS- why... what was the need to invite Sainath for this conference- He answered amicably- So that you should know how the other side thinks...
    I detest all these self proclaimed saviours of the poors of the world. But their aura is strengthened only because of the people who think they should sympathyse with anybody who speaks in the name of poverty, oppression... the list goes on... nature, environment. It will do good to people if they understand that being anti-WEALTH is being anti HUMAN.

  15. what is your point sir. Do you think P Sainath is totally animating?? You state that the only reason for Suicides at least for Cotton growers when compared to maharashtra is free market. Sitting in California its easy to find a different direction to analysis. But, even your analysis is not that great. I hope you have appetite to hear some constructive feedback. I hope you take this in right spirit

  16. Dear Siddharth,

    Its was a very elaborate and statistical article.

    Its good to see that the agriculture crisis to which even you agree got noticed and i am sure this amazing article would enlighten many more.

    This might interest you Its a link to Project Kalpana, an initiative to enable farmers of our country.

    Best Regards,

    Mini Aggarwal
    In Service for India
    Team Kalpana

  17. Dear Siddharth

    I am Preethi from Bhoomi Network based in Bangalore. We are into training and education of food and ecology. We are bringing out a quaterly magazine called Eternal Bhoomi for Food, Community and Sustainable Living. We have writers like Satish Kumar Editor of Resurgence Magazine, Vandana Shiva of Navdanya and many others.

    We would like to send a copy to Mr. P.Sainath. Is it possible for me to get his email or postal address so that I can send a copy of our magazine to Mr. P. Sainath.

    Awaiting a early Reply



  18. Like they say, if you torture statistics or a poor man enough, they will admit to anything. No wonder, we farmers do not make news unless a lot us kill ourselves. I could have been better if they go Naxal's way.

    One thing is for sure that we do not look pretty and its nothing less a crime in a land where everyone seems to have a costliest fairness cream and have the habit of trading himself in Western bazars.

  19. Siddhartha,

    Being a die-hard fan of "free-market philosophy plus safeguards", what do you feel about the Protectionist actions and Buy American slogans that you hear very often these days?
    Can you introspect whether there was a free-market at all ever?
    Or are the rules of the game changed or twisted to suit the dominant powers for their perpetual dominance?


  20. Alas, you are much too kind to Sainath. I have come to the conclusion that Magsaysay award are given away at an earlier stage of the awardee's career than they should be. Sandeep Pandey is another such example. He was given the award for his work with Asha, an organization that works on educational projects. Almost immediately, Sandeep left Asha and devoted himself to hard left-wing causes. At one stage he we was busy singing peons of praise for Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf. Sainath career has also moved in very similar direction. He now appears to spend his time writing highly biased and poorly researched articles for the Hindu. Interestingly, he also appears to have veered of in an extreme left wing direction. Amongst his recent articles, he made absurd claims about the extreme parsimony of Indian rich while ignoring substantial evidence to the contrary. More troubling are his advocacy of solutions that would require substantial expansion of the government and its concomitant corruption. Magsaysay award has now become a platform for many of the recipients to push destructive ideas that would otherwise have no audience.

  21. and too Mugdha "yes ,green revolution has caused many problems .The point is not to look short term ,there are many Biological problems associated with green revolution ... technology is something else ..implementing the right technology is something else. And anti wealth ...makes me laugh . no body is anti wealth ,it is anti too uneven distribution of wealth.

  22. You sit at FREMONT, CALIFORNIA, UNITED STATES, and presenting your idea about Indian Economy huh..
    Do u have any idea about P. Sainath.
    He is the person who has spend his last 10 years as rural affairs editor. To understand the situation about indian farmers you will have to come to india and experience the real situation about Indian farmers. And then write the blog.
    Watch 'Nero's Guest'.

  23. Dear Siddharth,
    Not sure if you will see this comment since I happen to read your blog today only. I recently listened to Mr. Sainath's talk about the issue of farmers suicide. he is a powerful speaker indeed. I am researcher and we recently completed a study wherin centralised community storage facilities for storing of pesticides were built to reduce suicides by pesticide poisoning in Tamil Nadu. We did many focus group discussions prior to the intervention to understand peopl'e attitude and their perceptions towards various issues like suicides, causes, suicides by pesticides, farmer's problems and perceptions towards the central storage. Though suicides were not a major problem in the villages we did the study in, it was considered still a problem. But we were amazed at the way things have changed in the lives of these people in villages. Atleast in Tamil Nadu, there is better opportunities and people no longer commit suicides for reasons of their debts. Suicide is a challenge to study. At the end of the study I felt it is people's reactions to life's stressors that make them committ suicide. We need to focus on policies that can take care of agrarian crisis in India but at the same time develop life skills in people, instill a sence of communal harmony fostering social support systems that can see people through tough times. I liked your article a lot. Good thinking-and I wish Mr. Sainath had read it. I wonder what he will have to say. Best wishes-Rani mohanraj

  24. Appreciate your detailed analysis. And data. I appreciate data.

    I am a big fan of Sainath's work, like you, and like you, not necessarily wedded to one way of thinking.

    I do agree with Sainath's anti-globalization, anti-capitalization stand, for my own reasons, which are not the issue here.

    One point worth considering in this analysis is that farming as a whole is not a particularly suicide prone profession. I have lived a rural life, luckily in a more prosperous region and can confidently say that there were very, very few suicides, even while all the usual problems with being human were there, as were the expensive weddings and such.

    So, I don't know that it is useful to say that farmer suicides have gone up or down based on that.

    The other thing is that it would be more useful for research purposes to calculate the percentage of farmer suicides among the farmer population and urban suicides among the urban population rather than an overall population, because while it seems that urban suicides are going up faster, urban population is also growing faster than rural population and farmers in particular are growing slowly or moving to other occupations, so the sample size is not growing at the same rate of the country, as you have assumed.

    I will try and post a detailed post taking this analysis further, but whatever I find out, big respect for laying things out so clearly, as well as looking at it in a multi-dimensional way, which I think is important.

  25. You're a very good writer. You've achieved considerable level of success in concealing your pro-neoliberalreforms stand. You have also beautifully used the age old technique of singing paeans about a particular person initially only to launch an scathing attack thus trying to make the unjustified outrage look neutral.

    You fail to understand one thing about P sainath. He is a down-to-earth, humble person with no material ambitions who is not flattered by the glamour in the world of new media today. He doesn't want to be referred to as a rural affairs editor, he plainly calls himself a rural reporter. Never has he written in favour of a particular ideology. His speeches are filled with personal opinions but all his articles are pre-dominantly stories of people occupying parts of forgotten India. They don't pronounce judgments, we try to read into them and make our own thus giving rise to stuff like "sainath is an extreme leftist".
    Your economic reforms have done nothing to address the agrarian issues, their nature is to ignore the marginalized.
    If you want to take shots at the left, you have the various communist parties in India, making a joke of a revolutionary ideology. you have people like D raja, Buddhadeb Bhattacharya and the Karats. Leave the likes of Sainath alone. They are a rare breed.

  26. Most people dont realize that there have really been FOUR green revolutions in the 20th century.
    First was the Haber-Bosch process,
    second was the replacing draught animals with tractors (and quick transport of grain), third was water harvesting and dams, and fourth was Norman Borlaug.

    Here is a simple intro to the first one and there is info on others in my blog too.