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Indian farmers struggle to adapt to the 21st century

Due to a lack of education, people on the land are unable to deal with the impacts of climate change, say experts

ucanews.com reporters, New Delhi

ucanews.com reporters, New Delhi

Published: February 11, 2016 10:33 AM GMT

Updated: February 12, 2016 06:48 AM GMT

Indian farmers struggle to adapt to the 21st century

A farmer on his tractor ploughs his field in Banda district of Uttar Pradesh. (Photo by Ritu Sharma)

A lack of technical and academic skills among India's farmers is a major cause of the country's agrarian crisis, says a group of church experts.

"The main problem with the farmers is that they are illiterate," Father V.J. Thomas, director of the social service wing of the Jhansi Diocese in northern India, told ucanews.com.

"When government scientists or agriculture experts explain something to them, they find it difficult to grasp," said Father Thomas.

It takes farmers time to understand what is beneficial for them, the priest said.

"Due to a lack of education, farmers feel it is difficult to give up their usual patterns of cultivation," he said.

These are techniques that they have been "practicing for ages" and it is not easy for them "to adopt new and different methods," he said.

Father Thomas said that the affects of climate change — drought, floods and unseasonal rains — made it necessary for farmers to alter how they work the land.

Farmers now face higher risks of crop loss and having greater input costs to run their operations. This has led to an increase them taking out agricultural debts that are hard to repay, which is also linked to rising numbers of farmers committing suicide.


A farmer tends to his field in Banda district of Uttar Pradesh. (Photo by Ritu Sharma)

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A region devastated

The Vidarbha region in the western Indian state of Maharashtra is among the worst hit by droughts and farmer suicides.

According to a data collected by Vidarbha Jan Andolan Samiti, a farmers' rights organization, over 300,000 farmers have taken their own life in the region over the past 10 years.

A 2011 census further showed that more farmers commit suicide in Maharashtra than any other state in the country. The national rate for farmer suicides was 16.3 per 100,000 farmers, while in Maharashtra it was 29.1 per 100,000 farmers.

According to the data by the National Crime Records Bureau of India, 5,650 farmers committed suicide in the country in 2014.

O.P. Rawat, a former administrative services officer, told ucanews.com that failure of crops is not the only reason for farmers' suicide. There are also cultural and socio-economic reasons behind it.

"We need to bring total behavioral changes in the field to mitigate the agrarian crisis through prolonged education," Rawat said.


Rural areas neglected

Jayant Kumar, head of program at the church's Auxiliary for Social Action, a New Delhi-based nongovernmental organization, noted that the continuous neglect of the rural population has led to farmer suicides and increasing migration of rural people to cities for job opportunities.

According to Kumar, successive Indian governments have failed to provide proper education, health facilities and other infrastructure for the rural population.

Father Frederick D'Souza, executive director of Caritas India, said farmers need to be educated on how to best use technologies that will help them negate the impact of climate change.

"Some policy changes by the government are also required. There should be a consistent method for farmers to refund the loans as it is a main driving force for suicides," Father D'Souza said, adding that the government also needs to introduce alternative ways of income generation for farmers.

The priest said that there need to be a protected environment for the small holding farmers to sell their product in the market.

"The smallholders sell their product to middlemen and are not able to get the actual value of their product. There has to be a mechanism so that these farmers can sell their product directly in the market," he added.

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