Did you know that farmer suicide rates are highest as compared to any other occupation? In Kenya alone, a lot of farming related suicides were recorded in the former Eastern Province between 2008 and 2010. The trend is more worrying globally. Nearly 270,000 Indian farmers and farm-workers committed suicide since 1995! In one of the States in India, Masharata, 852 farmer suicides were reported in 2017 alone. In Australia, approximately one male farmer dies from suicide every four days as at 2006! Further West in the US, data suggests that the suicide rate for agricultural workers in 17 states was nearly five times higher compared with that in the general population in 2016. Europe is also not an exception. In the UK, one farmer commits suicide each week while in Switzerland 12 farmers committed suicide between 2014 and 2015 in one (Vaud) district alone!
The Drivers to suicides
An individual’s desire to commit suicide is driven by beliefs about the extent to which the individual believes their need to belong is met or unmet and the extent to which they perceive themselves to be a burden on the people in their lives. In Kenya, the suicides were associated with crop failure caused by a protracted drought followed by rains during harvest time. This led to fungus attacks on grains rendering them harmful for human consumption. The soil was further affected by aflatoxins making subsequent farming less productive. These farmers had largely taken loans from Equity bank in 2008 through Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa with their land as collateral and were supposed to repay the same. Fear of land repossession and failed crops led to these suicides.
Considering that, “farmers work more than 80 hours a week to grow food or rear animal, it is ironical when they cannot actually afford the food!” A vegetable farmer in Arizona State remarks. Constant family fights due to financial resource strain and anxiety due to climatic occurrences that farmers cannot control often breeds depression and conflict among farmers. The emotional well-being of farmers is very much intertwined with the climatic conditions. A rainy day at the beginning of the rainy season is always a happy day for a farmer.
In India, an increase of temperature by just 10C on an average day during the growing period was associated with an increase of 67 suicides while a 1cm Increase in rainfall shows a 7% drop in suicide rate. Climate change has been attributed to these deaths and this led to the launching of the £1bn insurance scheme by Indian government in 2016 in a bid to shield its farmers from crop failure.
A recent study on pathway to suicide of 18 Australian male farmers has revealed that acute situational (romantic relationship problems and financial concerns/pending retirement) and protracted (long-term psychiatric disorder) contribute to such suicides. The study further identified long working hours, interpersonal conflicts, physical illnesses and pain, alcohol abuse, and exposure to drought were additional common factors identified. Long working hours and emotional troll have also been associated with suicides in Switzerland. These suicides prompted formation of a Farmer’s helpline in 1996. In 2015, this helpline received 151 calls of imminent suicide victims who were majorly men and family conflicts accounted for 39% of the calls followed by financial and economic problems.
Farmers do farming for passion and as a permanent part pf their life. Land is their greatest asset. They feed the world. It is therefore paramount that governments adopt relevant policy measures such as incentives to safe guard farmers from occupational shocks that they always encounter to reduce these suicide rates. This further serves as a precautionary measure to those who intend to venture into farming, as it is not for the faint hearted. In addition, for all of you that eat three meals a day, always appreciate a farmer!
Are you a farmer who has experienced such challenges? please share in the comment box.
Carleton, T. A. (2017). Crop-damaging temperatures increase suicide rates in India. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 201701354. https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1701354114
Kunde, L., Kõlves, K., Kelly, B., Reddy, P., & De Leo, D. (2017). Pathways to suicide in Australian farmers: A life chart analysis. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 14(4). https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph14040352