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Over 3 Lakh Farmers Committed Suicide Because Of How India Tried To ‘Boost’ Agriculture

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By Anwarul Hoda:

A farmer sits amid stacked sacks of onions as he waits for customers at a wholesale onion and potato market in the western Indian city of Ahmedabad November 14, 2014. India's inflation dropped to a new multi-year low in October, helped by slower annual rises in food and fuel prices, intensifying pressure on the central bank to cut interest rates to encourage spending and investment needed to boost growth. REUTERS/Amit Dave (INDIA - Tags: FOOD BUSINESS) - RTR4E4MS
Image credit: Reuters/Amit Dave.

“The post-reform period has been characterised by deceleration in the growth rate of crop yields as well as total agricultural output in most states. By ending discrimination against tradable agriculture, economic reforms were expected to improve the terms of trade in favour of agriculture and promote its growth,” Professor G.S. Bhalla wrote recently in an essay in Economic and Political Weekly.

The way I see it, no crisis comes with an invitation. Since India liberalised and exposed its domestic economy to the world, more than three lakh farmers have ended their lives, either by ingesting pesticide or by hanging themselves.

The three most common reasons causing such misery are debt, drought and declining productivity. Statesmen and policymakers failed to recognise the after-effects of Liberalisation, Privatisation and Globalisation (LPG). They might have thought that opening up the farm sector will lead to more prosperous farmers who will be able to get the maximum price for their produce. Unfortunately, that did not happen. In fact, the prevailing distress turned into a crisis. “Agrarian crisis in India is the result of the adaptation of the policies of the World Trade Organisation and its after-effect on the world economy,” opined Vijay Jawandhia, founder of Shetkari Sangathana, a farmers union in Maharashtra, in a documentary, commissioned by the 2014 Food Safety and Sustainable Agriculture Forum, titled YIELD.

A perception still seems to exist that the agriculture sector is growing with the increase in productivity. Yes, the productivity of the land increased, but unfortunately, neither income nor the condition of farmers is improving. We need to understand that for higher productivity, farmers are investing huge amounts in fertilisers and in pesticides and other chemicals. This increases the total cost of production, which most of the time amounts to more than what they are earning. They are unable to match their income with the money they invested even after an increase in production. The growth of agriculture should be measured in terms of real income of farmers rather than productivity to have more realistic information about the economic status of farmers.

Excess use of fertilisers also made agricultural production stagnant and affected the ecology in an adverse way. Excessive use of chemical fertilisers and pesticides made the soil and water contaminated.

Increasing dependence on the market for every agricultural input is another problem. Farmers are facing exploitation in the name of healthy yields. The cost of agricultural inputs continues to rise steadily. The biggest challenge farmers face is not having their own seeds for production. The traditional way of ‘hoarding of seeds’ is no more in practice due to the introduction of various hybrids and modified seeds in the market. These promise high yields, but after sowing, they require proper care as they are very sensitive to climatic conditions. Additionally, they are poorly equipped to resist various seasonal diseases and any consequent extra cost adds to the burden on the farmer.
On the other hand, the traditional seeds are more habituated to climatic conditions and hence, require less care which ultimately reduces the cost of production.

Monopoly and total control of private companies over the sale of seeds have made farmers more dependent as they are forced to buy at higher costs. There is a need to empower farmers in every way possible. Their dependence on the market should be reduced to a minimum and this can be done by reviving some old techniques and modifying them to suit the present times. Organic farming, for example, could promote sustained and healthy ways of agricultural production.

There are two possible ways to support farmers through price policy. One is by increasing the price of the crops grown by farmers and another is by reducing input costs. Cost efficient techniques and methods should be introduced in a big way so that the input costs may come down. Moreover, the government should also enhance the role of the Food Corporation of India in buying crops other than wheat and rice at a price which suits farmers.

Loopholes in fixing the minimum selling price (MSP) is another big problem. In an article on Catch News, the writer tells us,“[MSP] was meant to protect farmers from being fleeced by wholesalers. But it becomes the maximum price that the farmers get in the Mandi.”

‘Floor price’ which is a price level defined by the government to support farmers through the price mechanism, now actually becomes the maximum price a farmer gets in the market. There is a need to review the MSP policy and to restructure the market for the produce of the farmers.

During the post-reform period, India witnessed rapid economic growth. Per capita income increased along with the production of different industrial goods all over India, but the agricultural sector remained an exception. It should be a matter of concern for the policymakers that the sector, which engages 58% of the total rural workforce is facing deceleration in its productivity as well as in income levels during the same post-reform period.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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