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Non-sustainable farming kills

· Caritas India campaign against suicide of farmers ·

The spread of organic farming, not only promotes healthy food for people and the planet but it also helps in the fight against extreme poverty which in India is now causing a growing number of farmers to commit suicide. Fr Frederick D’Souza, Executive Director of Caritas India, explained this pattern to Asia News on 20 May. Caritas India recently held a promotional campaign for organic farming making it central to the charitable activity of the local Church.

Traditionally Caritas India concentrates on two large sectors: development and managing emergencies which stem from natural disasters, such as floods and earthquakes. “As an agency of the Catholic Church”, underlined Fr D’Souza, “we support the rights of children, women, and farmers. We aim to develop livelihoods to reduce poverty in the cities and in the countryside. We are also engaged in the fight against human trafficking and climate change”.

Climate change — caused in large part by pollution and which has a negative influence on harvests — is one of the largest contributing factors to the poverty of the people who live in the country. The farmers in turn apply for private loans from private entities which provide microcredit services, however often these farmers find themselves in situations of loansharking. Suffocated by debt, these farmers often opt for extreme measures even to the point of suicide. This phenomenon is becoming increasingly prevalent and which has for a few years now become a true societal problem. The highest suicide rate is in Maharashtra, where 986 of the 1,109 confirmed cases in all of India occurred. Maharashtra is among the richest and most populous states in the country. “For us”, Fr D’Souza said, “one of the biggest challenges of all is to give all the poor of the country a sustainable long term livelihood. If you have a job, you have food and you are not starving; you can send your children to school and take care of yourself if you’re sick”.

This suicide emergency among farmers is linked precisely to this matter. “The main reason is the lack of earnings. In recent years non-sustainable agriculture has spread, in which it makes extensive use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides for so-called cash crops, crops that have an immediate economic return, but which are dependent on these chemicals”. Farmers, the head of Caritas continued, “go into debt to buy these products, but the harvest that results will never be enough to support his family and pay off the debt. These people feel a certain type of social honor, they have their own dignity, and prefer to commit suicide rather than admit failure”. The problem is, however, that “this way of farming is creating a vicious circle with no way out. Fertilizers and pesticides deplete the earth, which can only produce a certain type of seed and only if stimulated by chemicals. At that point it is difficult to change to a more organic form of agriculture”.

Nevertheless, this is the path that must be taken, according to the heads of Caritas India which has already launched a campaign with the slogan: “Save the farmers, save India”.

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