Sunday, August 18, 2019

Punjab's Pain

Punjab was once a symbol of India's agricultural success. At least 39 percent of employed people in the state work in agriculture. In 2017, the average salary for a Punjabi farmer was about 16,000 rupees ($225) a month,

The state led the Green Revolution of the 1960s, which was supported by scientists from the United States, increasing India's food production.

Farmers moved away from traditional methods and crops such as maize, millet and pulses, favouring high-yield wheat and rice. But the dependence on fertilisers and pesticides, and the depletion of the water table, eventually trapped them in debt.

Farmers had earned more during the Green Revolution and enjoyed improved lifestyles.

"However, by the nineties, land productivity had been exploited and there was an increase in the cost of agricultural inputs; their income was squeezed and they stated taking loans," said Balwinder Singh Sidhu, agriculture commissioner in the state government.

Suicide rates in Punjab are now soaring. Data shows a 118-percent rise in farmer suicides in Punjab between 2015 and 2016, the highest for any state. 
"There is a high dependence on agriculture in this region. We have been seeing two to three suicides a day for long, but it has been repressed by the state, which wants to portray the success of Punjab," said Sukhdarshan Singh Natt, leader of Punjab Kisan Union, a farmers' union.

Researchers from Punjab Agricultural University and the Indian Council of Agricultural Research have been analysing the stress faced by farmers in an ongoing study.

"We need to create subsidiary occupations, reduce their financial stress, take some part of the population out of agriculture," said Sarabjeet Singh, the project's principal investigator.

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