Farming for Life

India is pushing organic cultivation initiatives to stanch the spate of farmer suicides

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SIMON ISABELLE / SIPA / Associated Press

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The agricultural heartland of India has turned into a suicide belt over the past two decades: Every 90 minutes, a small-scale farmer kills himself. It’s a shocking statistic that reflects an era of mass agricultural production and steep competition, explains Endogenous Development Magazine (June 2011). In particular, family farmers are mortgaging their homes, workplaces, and futures to modernize, often with no means to recoup their investment. 

The government is trying to stop the killing and encourage low-yield, high-value production. Following an initiative laid out by farmer Purushothama Rao in the 1990s, the Organic Farming Mission offers training to farm families seeking to attain organic standards such as grass-fed cattle, crop diversity, and alternate fuel. In 2009 the venture brought together 50,000 farmers for a ceremony to reclaim pride in the profession and take an organic oath: “Farmers pledged not to use hybrid seeds, chemical fertilizers or pesticides, not to commit suicide, and not to ask for subsidies or credits.”  

Endogenous Development reports that participating farms have seen an income increase from improved product value and marketing. A program in southern India aims to transition 500,000 farmers from chemical to organic farming by the end of 2012.

Cover-169-thumb.jpgHave something to say? Send a letter to editor@utne.com. This article first appeared in the January-February 2012 issue of Utne Reader.