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

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Small Farmers’ Suicide in Odisha

The changes in Odisha’s agriculture made paddy production a losing proposition, especially for the small farmers who leased in land. Substantial decline in farm income caused by exploitative land lease arrangements, denial of access to a regulated market, crop failures, increased cost of cultivation, and indebtedness pushed these farmers into severe economic hardship and an inhospitable social environment, which ultimately led to their suicides.

The authors thank the anonymous reviewer for comments and suggestions. They are also thankful to Harekrushna Biswal and Abhaya Biswal for their assistance during fieldwork.

Over the last two and a half decades, the spate of farmer suicides across states in India has emerged as one of the core issues of concern in the area of development research and policy debates. These suicides, initially confined to the developed states like Maharashtra, Punjab, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka, have now spread to backward states like Odisha. However, the body of literature on agrarian distress and farmer suicides have mainly analysed experiences of the developed states. The available studies, though varying in style and temper, by and large subscribe to the view that the farmers who commit suicide are mostly the small farmers, and they attribute these suicides to loss of farm income and indebtedness (Vasavi 1999; Mohanty 2001, 2005; Deshpande 2002; Mohanty and Shroff 2004; Mishra 2006; Sridhar 2006; Sidhu et al 2011; Shah 2012). These studies, however, rarely address the critical question as to why the small farmers experience a decline in farm income and remain indebted.

Nevertheless, a few of them (for example, Mohanty and Shroff 2004; Mohanty 2005) argued that decline of farm income of these farmers was caused by the rising cost of cultivation, crop loss, lack of desired skill and knowledge on modern farming and the price risk associated with agricultural markets. However, such an explanation, as is based on the experiences of developed states, may not fit in neatly to the situation of a backward state like Odisha, where the social background of the farmers, their agricultural practices and level of integration with the market are different. Additionally, the existing studies have overlooked the role of more significant structural changes in agriculture, like changes in control and use of land and agricultural marketing in the context of neo-liberal reforms.

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