More than 72% of farmers who commit suicide have less than two hectares of land, latest data on farmer suicides compiled by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) show. According to the NCRB report for the year 2015, less than 2% of farmers who committed suicide were large farmers with more than 10 hectares of land.
A hectare of land is roughly equivalent to 2.5 acres.
Medium farmers, who have between 2 hectares and 10 hectares of land, contributed a fourth of the 8,007 farmer suicides in the country in 2015.
It’s not as though the smaller the farmer the more likely he is to commit suicide due to farm distress. According to the NCRB data, small farmers were 45.2% of all farmer victims, while marginal farmers made up 27.4%.
According to the latest (2010-11) landholding census by the Ministry of Agriculture, 67.1% of all landholdings are marginal — smaller than 1 hectare — while 17.9% are small (1-2 hectares). Medium (2-10 hectares) and large (over 10 hectares) holdings are 14.3% and 0.7% of the total respectively.
However, the share of land under cultivation by marginal and small farmers is much smaller. The census shows that the operational holding (i.e., the area under cultivation) with marginal farmers is 22.5%, with small farmers it is 22.1%, with medium farmers it is 44.8%, and with large farmers it is 10.6%.
Srijit Mishra, the director of Nabakrushna Choudhury Centre for Development Studies, Bhubaneswar, and who has devoted years to the study of the Indian agrarian crisis, said, “The data needs to be studied further for a proper comment. But, in a general sense, farmers who have alternate sources of livelihood (including as agricultural labourers) may cope with the crisis better when compared to those who may depend almost entirely on farming; relatively speaking, this may be one of the factors separating the marginal from the small farmers.
“Also, farmers who are enterprising and have seen success can find it difficult to handle (the situation) when things fail. Statistics may also not be completely reflecting the complexity of the problem. The data on large farmers says they make up 2% of farmer suicides. That is almost twice their share in farmer population!”
Out of 2,195 suicides committed by “Marginal Farmers”, 834 were reported in Maharashtra and 354 in Chhattisgarh, accounting for 38% and 16% of the total.
Among suicides committed by “Small Farmers” — the largest group among victims of farmer suicides — Maharashtra (1,285 out of 3,618) again topped with a 35.5% share, followed by Karnataka (751 out of 3,618) which accounted for 20% of such suicides.
A total of 160 “Large Farmers” committed suicides in 2015. Telangana, with 79 such suicides, accounted for almost half the numbers. Chhattisgarh was a distant second with 37 suicides by large farmers.
Among the states with the worst figures of farmer suicides, Chhattisgarh stood out as the only one where more marginal farmers (354) committed suicide than small farmers (310). In most other states, suicide figures for small farmers were more than double that of marginal farmers.
Suicides among medium farmers were almost comparable to those among marginal farmers, with Chhattisgarh again being an exception. Against 354 marginal farmer suicides in the state, there were only 154 medium farmer suicides.