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Is farmer Gajendra Singh Rajput’s death in vain? Time for Indian politicos to stop bickering and start listening

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By Gaurav Sharma

Every 30 minutes in India, a farmer takes his own life. With more than 60 per cent of the country, directly or indirectly dependant on agriculture, this should be a major cause of concern.

Alas, the problem has persisted, if not been exacerbated over the years.

Scores of farmers have succumbed to the perilous hands of death, in utter helplessness to the droughts that have crumpled their produce, the burden of colossal debts that have hunched their poor backs into resignation.

But more so, the farmers have perished to the menace of suicide because of the callous attitude of our politicians, who seem to be only interested in scoring brownie points, to draw political mileage from their fall.

There has been a significant spurt of around 26 per cent in the number of farmer suicides from last year’s death toll of 1109 .

In the latest episode of horror, Gajendra Singh Rajput, a farmer from Rajasthan’s Dausa district  hanged himself from a tree at Aam Aadmi Party’s rally at Jantar Mantar.

Perhaps Gajendra had a premonition that the address would be a false rhetoric of support?

No sooner did the suicide happen, than the blame-game erupted among the political parties.

While blaming the AAP for the death, BJP spokesperson Sambit Patra asked, “Why didn’t the AAP leaders stop the farmer from committing suicide?”

The AAP, however, shifted the onus on the Delhi Police, with Arvind Kejriwal saying, “We kept asking the police to bring him down. Police may not be in our control but at least there should be a semblance of humanity among them. I am rushing to the hospital with Manish Sisodia.”

Later in the day, in an expression of ‘grief and sympathy’, Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi, Ajay Maken and Sachin Pilot also visited the hospital.

On his part, the Congress scion attacked the BJP for its anti-farmer policies saying, “I just want to tell the farmers we are with them and they should not feel scared at all. It is a very sad incident and so I have not come here to do politics. All this has happened because of the ordinance that has been brought by the BJP government.”

Eventually, a ‘probe’–the usual futile tactic in all such farmer suicide cases–was announced by Home Minister Rajnath Singh.

The passing of the buck from the BJP to the AAP to the Congress to the Police is like a merry-go round of avoiding responsibility, a first-aid measure to rid the conscience of the guilt that the death of the farmer entails on the souls of each party.

It only highlights the complicity of all political parties in the ‘murder’ of the farmer. The hands of the politicians are awash with the blood of the farmers.

The lack of seriousness with which politicians treat the lives of the farmers can be seen quite clearly when a leader like Akhilesh Yadav issues them compensation cheques which later bounce. Citing technical errors do not stem the rot. They only help in casting a dubious light on the intentions and the motives of such leaders.

As if that were not enough, our leaders constantly cry hoarse over the suicide figures that are released by the government data. Recently, Maharashtra’s Union agriculture minister Radhamohan Singh drew much flak from the media after he commented that only three farmers had committed suicide in the state.

The farmer suicides have become so ubiquitous that the situation has now snowballed into an epidemic. The green revolution, the genetically modified seeds or “miracle crops” had their moments for several years before they became counter-productive.

As the crop productivity declined and farmers became more indebted, they started taking their lives with the very pesticide that once protected their crops.

In response, the government announced relief packages and debt-waivers which have only been ineffective, short-sighted, misdirected and flawed because of the simple fact that they do not focus on productivity, but rather on loans and credit.

Instead of bickering and quarreling over who is responsible for the deaths, it would be wise for our leaders to understand that each one of us is directly or indirectly involved with the plight of the farmers.

It is but too obvious that it is only our ignorant arrogance that forces the farmers to take such a drastic step. Only when we accept our massive shortcomings in addressing such a vital issue, will we move towards taking cooperative remedial measures.

Even earlier today, when thousands of farmers gathered at the Jantar Mantar to express their concern and anger over the land bill, only a few were aware of the details. In their heart, only one fear was eating them out – what will they do when their piece of land, the only means to their livelihood–is acquired by the government?

While BJP says that the AAP rally was an attempt to divert attention from their internal problems, Gopal Rai, AAP minister, said that the “Delhi government won’t leave the farmers orphaned, like Modi government has.”

The war continues, but Gajendra’s suicide is a reminder that the farmers will be able to lead a dignified life only when the political parties stop treating them as vote banks to maximize political gains.

In essence, the root cause of farmer suicides is the failure to listen.

  • Not so much the failure to listen but the lack of a proactive attitude. Our politicians do have ears but the problem lies in the fact that they do not act.

    Nevertheless a hard-hitting piece.

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Research: Having Diverse Natural Areas Near Agriculture Helps Farmers Financially During Calamities

"New global and local policy should specifically target conserving and enhancing biodiversity"

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farmers, nature
University of British Columbia ecologist Diane Srivastava, with a damselfly, an insect often used as an indicator species for estimating biodiversity and assessing ecosystem health. (T. Zulkoskey). VOA

Farmers reap surprising benefits from having areas that are biodiverse  with many plant and animal species nearby, according to new research. A study finds that having diverse natural areas near agriculture helps farmers financially during droughts, and the more diverse the areas are, the better. Policies that preserve biodiversity near farms may ease economic pressure in places with severe droughts, the authors say.

“If you plant the same sort of crops next to a natural area that is very high in biodiversity versus one that’s very low in biodiversity, [the positive effect] spills over into the agricultural products,” said Frederik Noack, a professor of food and resource economics at the University of British Columbia who led the study.

Some of that spillover can be tied to the increased diversity of insects in places that host many different species of plants, experts say. Pollinators that help plants reproduce, like bees and moths, and spiders that prey on agricultural pests like aphids and beetles are especially important.

Noack hoped to learn if having biodiverse areas close to farms could help crops be more resistant to drought  and if that impact would be big enough to be seen in farmers’ incomes.

farmers, diversity, agriculture
Farmers reap surprising benefits from having areas that are biodiverse with many plant and animal species nearby, according to new research. Wikimedia Commons

Big data from small farms

The researchers used data from 7,556 households in 304 villages in Asia, Africa and Latin America, where farmers derive their incomes from traditional agriculture as well as forest products like lumber and firewood.

Noack and his research team looked for a connection between the level of natural biodiversity  in this case, the number of plant species in the area  and how strongly drought affected the incomes of local farmers.

The researchers had expected that greater local biodiversity would benefit farmers, and it did. Farmers in areas with half the biodiversity lost twice as much income when droughts hit during the growing season.

Noack said that initially they thought the effect was just correlated with crop diversity. “Maybe you plant more different crops in areas with higher natural biodiversity because maybe there are just more crops available in those areas and that’s actually what’s driving the effect.”

But that’s not what they found. Even when they accounted for the effect of greater crop diversity, the farmers’ incomes seemed to be stabilized just by being close to diverse natural areas that can host many types of pollinators.

farmers, agriculture, diverse
“If you plant the same sort of crops next to a natural area that is very high in biodiversity versus one that’s very low in biodiversity, [the positive effect] spills over into the agricultural products,” said Frederik Noack. Pixabay
Having access to forests was also an income stabilizer. Because forests are the result of many years of growth rather than just a single season, income from forest products is less susceptible to drought and can offset agricultural losses, the researchers found.

ALSO READ: Government to Launch Solar Scheme for Farmers to Ensure Rs. 1 Lakh Income

Encouraging conservation

Bruno Basso, an ecosystems scientist at Michigan State University who was not involved in the research, commented in an email that the researchers had been able to show that “biodiversity and forest conservation play a critical role in adapting and mitigating the negative effects of increased climate variability.” Noack hopes that this study can become part of the larger debate about conservation of natural areas.

“Should we just have protected area far away in areas that we don’t use or shall we try to integrate that into normal land use?” said Noack. “This study actually says maybe we should at least have some level of biodiversity conservation in the agricultural landscape because of this positive spillover.” Basso agreed. “New global and local policy should specifically target conserving and enhancing biodiversity,” he said. (VOA)