Over a decade ago, a disturbing trend among farmers in India captured headlines, as suicides among Indian farmers began to spiral out of control. Many of those farmers were indebted to giant agribusiness corporations like Monsanto, which – after gaining access to India’s seed sector in 1998 – enticed poor farmers to buy new “bioengineered” seeds every planting season along with the associated agro-chemicals required to grow them, promising bigger yields that would offset the costs.
When such benefits failed to materialize, many farmers – confronted with an ever-growing debt snowball – were faced with losing their land, leading many to take their lives by drinking the very same agro-chemicals that had helped trap them in debt. Though it has faded from the headlines, the crisis has continued unabated, with over 12,000 farmers in India still committing suicide every year.
While the crisis in India may seem a distant problem to many Americans, new reports have indicated that the U.S. is developing a farmer-suicide epidemic of its own.
A new report in CBS News notes that farmers in America now die at a rate higher than that of any other occupation and five times higher than that of the general population, even as the national suicide rate as a whole has jumped over the last few decades. As CBS notes, the increase in suicides mirrors a similar phenomenon in the 1980s, when U.S. farmers faced economic hardship related to debt, and suicides spiked.
Jennifer Fahy, communications director with Farm Aid, told CBS at the time that
“the farm crisis was so bad, there was a terrible outbreak of suicide and depression.”
Fahy now warns that the current situation is “actually worse.”
The newly reported increase in U.S. farmer suicides — much like the crisis for India’s farmers – is related to debt, specifically to global seed and agribusiness corporations that continue to raise prices as farmers’ incomes fall. Farm income has been dropping steadily since 2013, with the average this year set to be 35 percent less than it was five years ago. Meanwhile, farmers have seen a 300 percent price increase in recent years on products like seeds,