ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

A+| A| A-

Farmers' Suicides in Maharashtra

This article argues that the loss in competitiveness of the Indian cotton farmer after the opening up of India's agricultural economy in the mid-1990s was a major reason for the increase in farmers' suicides. Recently, in Maharashtra, there was a suicide epidemic owing to a decline in profit incomes to levels that were significantly negative.


Farmers’ Suicides in Maharashtra

Siddhartha Mitra, Sangeeta Shroff

This implies that its farmers’ suicides rate was around 5.5 times as high as that of the whole of Maharashtra. Thus, suicide rates in 2006 were 24.37 per 1,00,000 for Maharashtra and 134 per 1,00,000 (projected) for Vidarbha.

The varying suicide rates across cotton

This article argues that the loss in competitiveness of the Indian cotton farmer after the opening up of India’s agricultural economy in the mid-1990s was a major reason for the increase in farmers’ suicides. Recently, in Maharashtra, there was a suicide epidemic owing to a decline in profit incomes to levels that were significantly negative.

Siddhartha Mitra and Sangeeta Shroff ( are with the Gokhale Institute of Politics and Economics, Pune, India.

Economic & Political Weekly December 8, 2007

he phenomenon of farmers’ suicides, which has assumed epidemic proportions in some Indian states, is a major economic and social cause for concern. The spiralling of suicide rates in recent years, as captured by Table 1 (p 74), are symptomatic of agrarian distress and the impoverished condition of farmers. Consequently, this issue has received considerable media attention.

An important observation regarding farmers’ suicides is that suicide rates are high only in states where cotton is an important crop. In 2000-01, 2001-02 and 2002-03, the highest suicide rate was observed in Karnataka, which has around

4.5 per cent of its total area under cotton. In these years, the cotton producing arid areas of Karnataka suffered from water shortage due to drought. In 2004-05, the highest suicide rate occurred in Andhra Pradesh, which has around 8 per cent of its area under cotton. With respect to Maharashtra, the state-wise averages hide the serious situation in Vidarbha, the cotton belt of Maharashtra. Historically, the overall suicide rate for Maharashtra has never been high as farmers’ suicides have been concentrated mainly in the Vidarbha region, which accounts for 10 per cent of the state’s population. However, in the last couple of years the Vidarbha region and therefore, Maharashtra have seen a sharp increase in suicide rates.

The total number of farmers’ suicides, which occurred in Maharashtra during 2006 was 1,427 (Table 1). The Vidarbha Jan Andolan Samiti, a farmers’ movement, reported that between June 2005 and December 2006, 1,158 farmers had committed suicide in Vidarbha ( This implies that a total of 772 suicides were committed in Vidarbha in 2006. Thus, Vidarbha with only slightly over 10 per cent of the population of Maharashtra accounted for 55 per cent of its suicides.

producing states and over time imply that the relationship between cotton cultivation and suicide rates is not a steady one. The importance of cotton farming in the agricultural economy of a region is obviously a key determinant of the strength of this relationship. External factors such as world prices affect all states equally but the vagaries of rainfall do not. Moreover, as we shall see later, technological factors such as the adoption of high-yielding varieties and the spread of irrigation vary spatially and temporally. Thus, in Karnataka we find that the suicide epidemic of 2000-03 gave way to better times in the next two years, when the farmers’ suicides rate reached a low of 3.3. In Maharashtra, suicide rates were very low till 2003 but made a quantum jump in 2004 when they reached a figure of 10 per 1,00,000. There was another leap to

24.37 per 1,00,000 in 2006. The trend in Andhra Pradesh has some resemblance to that in Maharashtra with the peak being attained in 2004-05. Subsequently, there has been a fall.

In the recent past, several studies have been conducted to explore the major causes of farmers’ suicides in the cotton growing regions of Indian states. While state governments attribute these selfinflicted deaths mainly to crop failure, the media highlights factors such as the rising cost of cultivation, indebtedness and bottlenecks in agricultural marketing [Mohanty 2005]. The media and governments are both right – with the media focusing on the proximate causes of crop failure and the governments focusing on the failure itself.

It is not a surprise that an increase in indebtedness is a proximate cause of farmers’ suicides. It amounts to the disease itself, not its ultimate source. The prescription of a treatment for prevention/cure can only be made if we identify the ultimate/ root causes of farmers’ suicides. Similarly,


rising costs of cultivation can best be taken as an intermediate cause, which owes its genesis to other basic factors such as the lack of flexibility in cultivation practices and their wrong choice. In certain cases, an increase in the cost of cultivation might be justified on the grounds that it leads to a more than compensating increase in yield.

In this paper we, therefore, look at the root causes of farmers’ suicides in India. The general Indian case is the subject matter of Section 1. Maharashtra comes under special scrutiny in Section 2, given the sudden alarming increase in suicide rates in Vidarbha and the large number of cotton farmers involved. The conclusions are discussed in Section 3.

1 Causes of Farmers’ Suicides

Decreasing Areas

A sign of the rising unprofitability of cotton cultivation is the decrease in the proportion of total cropped area allocated for cotton cultivation, a phenomenon that is universal across almost all states (Table 2).

Table 1: Farmer Suicide Rates (Suicides Per 1,00,000)

States Period Number of Suicides Suicide Rates

Andhra Pradesh 2000-01 191 3.4
2001-02 267 4.7from July 2001, raw cotton exports were 62 per cent of the peak of 1994-95. A 2003
2002-03 313 5.4also under the OGL. This made India’s cotcotton report by Motilal Oswal noted that
2003-04 393 6.7
2004-05 1,126 18.9ton economy susceptible to price shocks the subsidies given by the US to its cotton
2005-06 300 5.0 from the world market. Such a shock came farmers have largely been accepted to be
Karnataka 2000-01 2,630 61.6at the turn of the century when world cotthe reason for the spectacular decline in
2001-02 2,505 57.7ton prices began to decline rapidly. cotton prices at a global level. As a result
2002-03 2,340 53.0
2003-04 708 15.8Events unfolding since the beginning of of subsidies received, US cotton farmers
2004-05 271 5.9the 1990s all pointed towards an increase increase their production much in excess
2005-06 152 3.3
Maharashtra 2001 50 0.8in susceptibility over time. Over the period of demand and this excess production is
2002 122 2.01992-2002, world cotton yield increased then dumped in the international market,
2003 170 2.8by 1.2 per cent per annum whereas the which increases the world cotton supply,
2004 620 10.0Indian yield declined by 1.5 per cent pa thus pushing down the prices. The annual
2005 572 9.0
2006 1,427 2,4.37 [FAO 2003]. China, a major competitor, on average prices of important varieties of
Punjab 2002-03 0 the other hand, increased its average cotton lint, which are indicated in Table 4
2003-04 2 yield per hectare by 6.1 per cent pa. In (p 75) also tell a similar story while the
2004-05 0 -
Kerala 2001 56 2.71992, India had a yield of 771 kg/hectare status of cotton in terms of area (shown in
2002 69 3.3for seed cotton (ibid), which was around Table 5, p 75) indicates that there was a
2003 74 3.540 per cent of the Chinese yield. In 2002, negative response of area to the fall in
2004 135 6.2
2005 120 5.5 the yield in India declined to 754/kg per prices. However, the rise in suicide rates
2006 (up to June) 52 - Table 2: Area under Cotton as a Proportion of Gross Cropped Area (1999-2003) (in %)
Orissa 2001-02 2 - Andhra Pradesh Gujarat Haryana Karnataka Madhya Pradesh Maharashtra Punjab Rajasthan Tamil Nadu All India
2002-03 1 1999-2000 8.03 15.19 9.02 4.45 1.85 14.56 6.07 3.02 2.73 4.63
2003-04 0 2000-01 7.55 16.04 9.08 4.46 2.75 14.04 5.97 2.65 2.68 4.62
Gujarat 2001 13 2001-02 8.69 16.18 9.96 5.17 2.81 13.87 7.63 2.45 2.63 4.77
2002 6 2002-03 6.95 15.74 8.59 3.37 3.05 12.51 5.75 2.92 1.46 4.36
2003 0 2003-04 6.77 14.51 8.23 2.74 2.81 12.45 5.70 1.59 1.84 3.98
2004 4 2004-05 9.12 na 9.12 3.47 2.82 12.18 6.4 na 2.14 4.89
Source: Source: Ministry of Agriculture, Government of India. For 2004-05, data are obtained from CMIE April 2007 and Planning Commission, Government of India.
74 December 8, 2007 Economic & Political Weekly

In Andhra Pradesh, the decline was from

8.03 per cent in 1999-2000 to 6.77 per cent in 2003-04 – a decline of 15.3 per cent. The area again showed an upward trend in 2004-05. Karnataka saw a maximum percentage decline of 41 per cent during the period 1999-2000 to 2003-04, whereas in Maharashtra it was just 14.4 per cent of the original proportion. Interestingly, Karnataka did not see the same upsurge in suicide rates as that witnessed by Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra post2003. Our conclusion about the link between cotton production and farmers’ suicides seems more or less reaffirmed.

Global Context

The sources of an increase in cotton farmers’ suicides can be traced to the stagnation of the Indian cotton farmer against the backdrop of an international setting, which was dynamic. Liberalisation in agricultural trade policies of the government had a major impact on the cotton economy. Since 1970, imports had been canalised through the Cotton Corporation of India. However, in 1994 with the opening up of the economy, cotton lint exports were placed under an open general licence (OGL), i e, they were freely importable. Further, hectare, which was less than 20 per cent of the corresponding Chinese figure of 3,978 kg/hectare.

Despite China reducing its area under production by more than 40 per cent, it succeeded in raising its production from

13.5 million tonnes in 1992 to 15.9 million tonnes in 2001 – an overall increase of 18 per cent, which corresponded to an average annual rate of increase of 1.8 per cent pa. Many other countries expanded their production. In the period 1992-2001, world production of seed cotton increased from 52 million tonnes to 60.6 million tonnes. This represented an overall percentage increase of 16 per cent and an average annual rate of increase of 1.7 per cent. This increase in world supply coupled with a shift in world tastes away from cotton cloth led to a collapse in world prices.

The cotlook A index, which is the average of the cheapest five quotations from a selection of the main uplands cotton traded internationally is indicated in Table 3 (p 75). From 92.6 in 1994-95, when the cotlook A index reached its peak, there was a sharp decline over the next seven years to 41.8 in 2001-02 – a decline of 55 per cent. It made partial recovery thereafter but only to

57.04 in 2005-06, a level which was only


points to the conclusion that this fall in area might have been less than what was justified by the fall in prices. For example, though the cotlook A index fell by 55 per cent over 1994-2001, the decline in area over 1995-2002 was from 90.63 lakh hectares to 76.67 lakh hectares, a fall of 15.4 per cent (we consider a one year lag between the two periods in order to consider the response of area cultivated to price). Note also that the yield declined over the period 1994-2001 from 254 to 186 kg per hectare, a substantial fall of 27 per cent. Apart from a rise from the second to the third year of this period, the secular trend was that of a steep decline or constancy in yield from one year to the next. Thus, barring a brief time interval, the effect of change in yield on profitability would have varied from being insignificant to being highly negative. This should have added to the decline in area under cotton production.

Popularity of Bt Cotton

However, in the years 2006-07 and 2007-08, there was an increase in the area under cotton. The area increased from

86.77 lakh hectares in 2005-06 to 95.03 lakh hectares in 2007-08 mainly due to the extensive use of transgenic seeds especially in Gujarat and Maharashtra. Bt cotton has been gaining popularity in Gujarat, which is experiencing rapid increases in yield. However, states such as Maharashtra, due to poor irrigation facilities have hardly benefited from this technology although more area is being brought under Bt cotton.

Table 3: Cotlook A Index With a 55 per

(in cents/pound)

cent decline in the

Year Cotlook Index A

cotlook A index and

1993-94 70.4 1994-95 92.6 a 20 per cent de1995-96 85.4

cline in yield over

1996-97 78.6

the period 1994

1997-98 72.2 1998-99 58.8 2001, the associated 1999-2000 52.8

15 per cent decline in

2000-01 57.2

area under produc

2001-02 41.8 2002-03 55.7 tion hardly seems 2003-04 69.1

to be an adequate

2004-05 53.5

response and could

2005-06 57.04 Source: have contributed to

the increase in suicide rates. Thus, it is fair to surmise that the increase in farmers’ suicides rates was due to the inflexibility of crop allocation practices.

Economic & Political Weekly December 8, 2007

Whether this was due to the nature of the Indian farmer per se or due to the lack of advice forthcoming from extension staff begs further research.

Between 2000-01 and 2001-02, there was also a surge in the import of cotton, which surged from 7.87 lakh bales in 1998-99 to 25.26 lakh bales in 2001-02. Thus, farmers hoping to gain from the expansion of markets caused by trade liberalisation ended up suffering losses as their markets actually contracted under global competition.

Even basic steps to increase productivity on land under cotton cultivation were not taken. One possible step could have been an increase in the proportion of area under cotton cultivation that was irrigated. Table 6 shows a considerable yield multiplier from irrigation in all states with the exception of Andhra Pradesh. How ever, the actual trends in irrigated shares in total cultivated area showed regressive tendencies. In 1996 the proportions were 3.85 per cent, 23.74 per cent and 32.88 per cent for Maharashtra, Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh respectively. A swift decrease in proportions followed in the next five years and in 2001 only 1.2 per cent of total cotton area under cultivation was irrigated in Maharashtra (decline of 2.25 percentage points over 1996-2001). The figures for the other major cotton growing states were

13.04 per cent in Karnataka (decline of 10 percentage points), and 17.59 per cent in Madhya Pradesh (decline of 15 percentage points). Andhra Pradesh went against the trend as there was an increase of 3.88 percentage points in irrigated area under cotton as a proportion of total cotton area. Ironically, Andhra Pradesh was the only state with an insignificant yield multiplier from irrigation (Table 5).

To sum up, what was needed was an increase in the proportion of irrigated area in total area under cotton to continue the facilitation of adequate revenue flows to cotton farmers in a situation where greater openness in the world economy was associated with an increase in world supply, a shift in tastes away from cotton1 and, therefore, a slump in the international price (which was now common to all countries). The reality actually corresponded to a decline in irrigation coverage as a proportion of area sown.

Another factor leading to a decline in profitability of cotton farming was an increase in its costs of cultivation. The cotton crop is highly susceptible to innumerable pests and insects – American bollworm being the most common, as a result of which farmers spray pesticides several times on the standing crop. It is estimated that in Maharashtra, the cotton crop alone accounts for 54 per cent of total pesticide consumption ( The overuse and misuse of pesticides not only inflates the costs of cultivation but also leads to decreased yield due to problems of harmful residues, pest resurgence, development of insects resistant to insecticides and ecological upheavals. Farmers also lack expertise on good pest

Table 4: Annual Average Prices of Important Varieties of Cotton in India (prices in Rs per candy spot)

Year/Variety H-4 S-6 MCU-5 DCH-32

1996-97 19,003 19,827 23,697 25,961

1997-98 20,261 21,090 23,338 30,313

1998-99 18,964 19,766 24,180 26,549

1999-2000 18,461 19,763 26,013 30,109

2000-01 19,676 20,863 24,592 33,550

2001-02 15,559 16,659 19,379 26,443

20002-03 19,980 20,791 23,038 30,561

2003-04 22,193 23,307 25,035 30,767

2004-05 15,942 16,736 20,055 30,599

2005-06 17,002 18,308 21,330 40,252


Table 5: Area Production and Yield of Cotton Lint

Year Area Production Yield of Lint (Lakh Hectares) (Lakh Bales of (Kgs per 170 kgs) Hectare)

1991-92 76.93 102.8 230

1992-93 75.41 120.7 272

1993-94 74.40 118.6 271

1994-95 78.61 117.6 254

1995-96 90.63 130.9 246

1996-97 91.66 145.3 271

1997-98 89.04 113.9 218

1998-99 92.87 121.8 223

1999-2000 87.31 115.3 225

2000-01 85.76 95.2 190

2001-02 87.30 100.0 186

2002-03 76.67 87.4 194

2003-04 76.30 123.9 8 276.05

2004-05 87.86 170.0 329.00

2005-06 86.77 159.0 311.00

2006-07 91.58 210.4 390.56

2007-08 95.03 (estimated) 300.74 538

Source: Directorate of Economics and Statistics, Ministry of Agriculture, GoI. Data for 2006-07 and 2007-08 is obtained from the USDA Foreign Agricultural Service.

Table 6: Averages for Yields (1995-98 and 1991-94) and Resulting Irrigation Yield Multiplier

Irrigated Unirrigated Multiplier
(1995-98) (1991-94)
Andhra Pradesh 1,036 760.0 1.36
Gujarat 2,790 430.3 6.48
Karnataka 424 213.3 1.99
Maharashtra 770 349.0 2.20
Punjab 1,325 235.0 5.64
Rajasthan 965 468.7 2.06


management decisions and often use formulations, which are substandard.

2 Why Maharashtra?

After 2004, if there is any state, which has seen a massive increase in farmers’ suicides, it is Maharashtra. In 2004, Maharashtra’s farmers’ suicide rate reached 10, its

Table 7: State-wise Cotton Yields (2000-01 to 2005-06) (kgs per hectare)

2005-06 (in %) entire period under con-

Andhra Pradesh 277 288 230 384 316 347 25.27

sideration. An interna-

Gujarat 122 165 175 417 421 604 395.08

tional comparison indi-

Haryana 424 195 341 454 568 437 3.07 Karnataka 263 171 143 142 224 228 -13.31 cated that Maharashtra’s

Maharashtra 100 147 158 190 176 187 87.00

yield was 10 per cent

Punjab 430 366 410 556 697 731 70.00

of China’s. The cotton

Tamil Nadu 317 295 188 213 256 258 -18.61

cotton producing states. Its average yield of 160 kg per hectare for the period 2000-01 to 2005-06 was 30 per cent of India’s leader Punjab. While Karnataka had a lower yield than Maharashtra in 2002-03 and 2003-04, its average during the period was 195 kg per hectare – higher than that of Maharashtra by 22 per cent. Gujarat experienced rapidly rising yields,

States 2000-01 2001-02 2002-03 2003-04 2004-05 2005-06 Percentage which were as high as Increase from 2000-01 to 395 per cent over the

Source: Ministry of Agriculture, government of India. farmer in Maharashtra
maximum value in recent times. However, Table 8: Monthly Wholesale Price Index was thus not efficient enough to compete in the international market.
the worst was still to of Cotton Year Price Index While the yield of cotton in Maharash
come. In the subse2001 162 tra was much lower than that in other
quent year, the suicide 2002 154 states, costs of cultivation registered an
rate was around the 2003 177 2004 173 increase of 45.2 per cent in the period
same but in 2006, 2005 153 2000-01 to 2002-03 (Tables 9 and 11, the
Maharashtra witnes2006 165 latter on p 77), which surpassed those
sed one of the worst Source: of all other states. During the same
suicide epidemics. The period, Haryana exhibited a decline of 6
suicide rate surged to 24.37, all on account per cent in the cost of cultivation of
of the epidemic outbreak of suicides in cotton per hectare and Punjab showed
Vidarbha where the suicide rate was an increase of 17.3 per cent. In case of
around 134 per 1,00,000. In other words, Gujarat, the increase in cost was around
about one out of every 800 farmers was 40.7 per cent but the state showed
committing suicide in Vidarbha. continuous increases in yield.
Other cotton growing states did not The situation would not have been so
share Maharashtra’s and Vidarbha’s plight. hopeless if the price index of seed cotton
Karnataka saw suicide rates reach minus had registered a significant increase
cule levels after the drought years at the during this period and kept up with the
beginning of the century. Suicidal fires consumer price index (CPI). However,
were doused in Andhra Pradesh where the there was virtually no net change in the
suicide rate plummeted from around 19 in price index of seed cotton (Table 6 on p 75
2004-05 to around 6 in 2005-06. Suicides or Table 8) whereas the CPI changed by
were absent in Punjab and moderate for around 30 per cent during the period. In
Kerala. We do not have recent data for other words, gross real revenue per unit of
Gujarat but data till 2004 indicate that cotton declined by around 28 per cent dur
projections would yield insignificant ing this period. In all future exercises in
suicide rates. this paper assume the percentage growth
in price of seed cotton to be zero, given
Factors Affecting Remuneration that actual changes in price are negligible.
There are three factors that affect how Table 9 projects the cost increase over
remunerative a crop is – its yield, its the period 2000-01 to 2005-06 under the
price and the cost of cultivation. The state assumption that costs grew at the same
wise cotton yields during the period rate over this entire period as they actually
2000-01 to 2005-06 (Table 7) indicate did over the period 2000-01 to 2002-03.
that Maharashtra had the lowest yield in This projection seems rather conservative,
2004-05 and 2005-06 among all major given that expensive Bt cotton gained

ground after 2002-03. The projected increase in the cost of cultivation for Maharashtra is a stupendous 154 per cent. Given that yield in Maharashtra increased by 87 per cent during this period, gross real revenue per hectare of cotton increased by 57 per cent during this period. Given an increase in nominal costs of production per hectare to the tune of 154 per cent, real costs of production (nominal costs deflated by CPI) increased by as much as 124 per cent during the period. Thus, the increase in costs of production dwarfed the increase in gross revenue, leading to a decline in profits per hectare.

Table 10 performs the exercise of the last paragraph for all major cotton growing states and provides percentage increases in gross real revenues and real cost of production per hectare over 2000-01 to 2005-06, on the basis of data in Table 9. Gujarat, Punjab and Haryana had revenue increases (in percentage terms), which far exceeded their projected cost increases. These states probably saw profit incomes per hectare increase. In Karnataka, gross real revenue per hectare and real cost per hectare declined by 43.3 per cent and 18 per cent respectively, implying that profits declined. Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra were the other two states, which definitely showed a decline in real profit income per hectare. In Andhra Pradesh it was the lack of dynamism in yield, which was to blame whereas in Maharashtra, the yield which

Table 9: State-wise Percentage Change in Cost of Cultivation (in %)

States Percentage Increase in Projected Increase
2000-01 to 2002 -2003 Over 2000-01 to
2005 -06
Andhra Pradesh 34.4 109
Gujarat 40.7 135
Haryana -6.0 -14
Karnataka 4.8 12
Maharashtra 45.2 154
Punjab 17.3 49

Source: Derived from data provided by department of agriculture and cooperation, Ministry of Agriculture, government of India.

Table 10: Projected Percentage Change in Profit Income Per Hectare

States Increase in Increase in Likely
Gross Real Real Costs Direction
Revenue Per Hectare of Profit
Per Hectare Incomes
Per Hectare
Andhra Pradesh -4.7 79.0 decrease
Gujarat 365.1 105.0 increase
Haryana -26.9 -44.0 increase
Karnataka -43.3 -18.0 decrease
Maharashtra 57.0 124.0 decrease
Punjab 40.0 19.0 increase

Source: Calculated from Tables 7 and 9.


was as low as 100 kg per hectare in 2000-01, the Bt variety in Maharashtra as against the farmer faces not only yield risk but did increase but not enough to compen-the national figure of 11.51 per cent [Gan-also price risk. Overall, three factors consate for the massive increase in the cost dhi and Namboodri 2006]. This positive tributed to the plight of farmers – low of cultivation. deviation from the average has roused yield exposed to the lower international

Table 11 projects the profit income of suspicions that Bt cotton probably has a prices after liberalisation, a lack of 2000-01 (computed on the basis of data lot to do with the suicide epidemic. In dynamism in cotton yield per hectare in a collected by the department of agriculture Vidarbha, which is characterised by a dynamic world and a huge increase in and cooperation, ministry of agriculture, high incidence of farmers’ suicides, the area costs of cultivation. All these factors made government of India) forward to cotton farming unremunerative.

Table 11 : Projections of Profit/Surplus Income Per Hectare (in rupees)

2000-01 2005-06 States Cost of Total Profit/ Cost of Total Profit/presented in Table 9 . The cost Cultivation Revenue Surplus Cultivation Revenue Surplus was a suicide epidemic in recent Per Hectare Income Per Hectare Income

2005-06 by using the results In the case of Maharashtra, there

measure, which was used times because the mentioned

Andhra 12,406 24,985 12,579 22,207 23,803 1,597 accounted for all cultivation ex-Gujarat 6,962 8,920 1,957 14,272 41,487 27,215 imbalances were large enough to

penses actually incurred in-Haryana 6,431 22,162 15,731 3,601 16,193 12,592 lead to a decline in profit incomes Karnataka 6,805 11,321 4,516 5,580 6,418 838

cluding that of leased in land. to levels, which were significantly

Maharashtra 9,244 12,548 3,305 20,707 19,700 -1,006 No imputed costs (such as the Punjab 12,998 23,261 10,262 15,468 32,565 17,098 negative. One recent factor lead-

Source: Table 11 and data for 2000-01 on revenue and cost of cultivation provided by department of

wages of family labour) were ing to an increase in the cost of

agriculture and cooperation, ministry of agriculture, government of India.

included in the cost measure. It can be observed from Table 11 that only Maharashtra has a negative profit/ surplus income per hectare in 2006. The size of this negative surplus is substantial and over Rs 1,000 at 2000-01 prices. This explains the indebtedness of the cotton farmer in Maharashtra, which is a proximate cause for suicide. This was also a sea change from the positive surplus income of Rs 3,305 per hectare in 2000-01.

Lack of irrigation might be a major factor, which has led to the suicide epidemic in Maharashtra. Political and economic factors are also often cited (such as the alienation of Vidarbha, the cotton producing region, from the rest of Maharashtra). At 1.2 per cent, the share of irrigated cotton area in total cotton area is a fraction of that for other crops. Mungekar (1999) blames the inequity in distribution of water with 2.5 per cent to 3 per cent of the land consuming about 60 per cent of the irrigation water. Drip irrigation might be useful in spreading water more evenly across land and meeting the needs of cotton cultivation as it has much higher water use efficiency than traditional irrigation.

Bt Cotton

The increasing number of suicides in Maharashtra has often been attributed to the widespread adoption of area under Bt cotton. Maharashtra accounts for 32 per cent of the cotton growing area in the country but its share in the Bt cotton area is much larger. In 2005, 17.61 per cent of cotton growing area was under

Economic & Political Weekly December 8, 2007

under Bt cotton increased from 0.4 per cent of total area to 15 per cent in 2005-06.

Given the existence of both positive and negative influences of Bt cotton on the cost of cultivation, different studies have come out with differing results on the directional impact of Bt cotton on profits/surplus income per hectare. Without taking sides and recognising the large number of stochastic factors affecting cotton cultivation, we can still come to the conclusion that research and regulation, which bring down the price of Bt cotton seeds in India, might be valuable in increasing the profitability of cotton cultivation and the net benefits from Bt cotton and reducing the vulnerability of cotton farmers. More research on crossing imported Bt cotton varieties with indigenous high-yielding cotton varieties resistant to non-bollworm pests is desirable as the expenditure on pesticides as well as the magnitude of pest related damage might both be reduced.

3 Conclusions

This paper concludes that the loss in the competitiveness of the Indian cotton farmer after the opening up of India’s agricultural economy in the mid-1990s was a major reason for the increasing incidence of farmers’ suicides. In a closed economy framework, farmers were faced mainly with yield risk and any crop loss could at least be somewhat compensated by an increase in domestic prices. In an open economy, however, crop failure may be accompanied by a fall in the ruling price in case of an increase in world supply. Thus,

cultivation is the use of costly Bt cotton seeds by farmers.

Our study leads to certain policy recommendations, which can salvage the situation in Maharashtra – increase in irrigation coverage for the cotton crop by the general increase in efficient water usage through methods such as drip irrigation, irrigation loans at zero or subsidised interest rates, stimulation of research in crossing the bollworm resistant Bt cotton seeds with traditional high-yielding varieties resistant to other pests and price regulation of Bt cotton seeds. Finally, the marketing of spurious seeds must be checked and insecticide resistance management strategies must be disseminated to educate farmers on pest management. This will greatly increase their yield and augment their agricultural incomes.


1 Debbie Vivien (National Cotton Council, USA), in a presentation at a meeting of the International Cotton Advisory Committee (March 10, 1997), pointed out that while world cotton consumption was constant over time man-made fibre consumption was increasing at 7 per cent per annum. The reasons for inroads made by man-made fibre into markets for cotton fibre were initially the former’s novelty and easy care properties and later its price advantage.


FAO (2003): Selected Indicators of Food and Agriculture Development in Asia-Pacific Region in 1992-2002

( Gandhi, V and N V Namboodri (2006): ‘The Adoption and

Economics of Bt Cotton in India: Preliminary Results from a Study’, Working paper No 2006-09-04, Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad, India, September.

Mungekar (1999): ‘A Paradox in Maharashtra’, Frontline, Vol 16, No 26, December.

Mohanty, B B (2005): ‘We Are Like the Living Dead: Farmers’ Suicides in Maharashtra, Western India’, The Journal of Peasant Studies, Vol 32, No 2, April, pp 243-76.

Vivien, Debbie (1997): ‘Presentation at International Cotton Advisory Committee Meeting’, March 10.

Dear Reader,

To continue reading, become a subscriber.

Explore our attractive subscription offers.

Click here

Back to Top