India is far from the only place that has seen farmers commit suicide at alarming rates. In what is one of the Free World’s best kept secrets, farmer suicides – a phenomenon popularly associated with India – are rearing their heads in America and Europe, and are becoming difficult to push under the carpet. The suicides have been happening for some years now; some states have set up hotlines to counsel farmers at the end of their tether as prices of farm produce fall and money problems rise.
The French research institute INVS released in October a preliminary study finding that French farmers commit suicide at a rate of once every two days, 20 percent more than the French population as a whole. Cattle farmers were killing themselves the most, and during a prolonged depression of French milk prices in 2008 a previous INVS investigation discovered suicide among dairy farmers was 47 percent higher than for the rest of France. In rural France, farmers are killing themselves in record numbers on account of financial woes; the government concedes this has become a ‘genuine public health problem’. Statistics are not readily available as many rural suicides are reported as accidents or deaths from illness, though estimates suggest 400 to 800 annually commit suicide. France’s mounting suicide problem reflects its suffering agriculture sector, which has buckled amid rising prices for inputs like fertilizers and feed. The economic squeeze has been especially hard on the country’s livestock sector, which registered the highest farmer suicide rates. Livestock farmers face particularly slim profit margins and have been unable to pass along higher costs to food manufacturers and retailers.
In China, farmers are turning to self-immolating or suicide by other means to dramatically protest land expropriation. As reported in a three-part investigative series by Ian Johnson in September in The New York Times, Chinese farmers are turning to suicide while the country’s overall suicide rate has sharply declined. The government’s blueprint to move 250 million rural dwellers to cities by 2025 has toiled the Chinese countryside. About 280,000 people, 80 percent of them from rural areas, commit suicide in China each year, the Farmers’ Daily reported. The report also found that women commit suicide 25 percent more often than men, and that most people who commit suicide are either young (15-34 years old) or over the age of 60.
Australia, which overall has one of the highest suicide rates in the world, according to the World Health Organization, has an even higher proportional rural suicide morbidity rate –some years 20 percent higher. A spike occurred in the mid-2000s, during the country’s worst drought in a century.
The UK’s foot-and-mouth crisis was the backdrop to a study in the academic journal Occupational and Environmental Medicine that concluded, “farmers are one of the professional groups at highest risk of suicide in England and Wales” and even singled out one farming community, in Devon, as a “particular cause of concern.” The paper also found British farmers are twice as likely to contemplate suicide against the overall population. Identified factors for the high farmer suicide including access to firearms, the prospect of unemployment, financial difficulties, and a sense of personal failure.
The same problems may stalk American farmers. There is evidence that farmer suicide, while not surging, is continuing to steadily plateau in the United States. Suicides already occur the most in predominately rural states (the top ten in descending order: Wyoming, Alaska, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Idaho, Oregon, Colorado, South Dakota, and tied for tenth, Arizona and Utah). In Colorado, USA, the Denver Post reported in June 2009 that in large parts of rural America, a growing number of farmers consider suicide and call the helpline with loaded guns in hand, complaining of cash problems.
References and additional reading:
Why Are So Many Farmers Killing Themselves? –
Farmer suicides in America and Europe –
French farmers are committing suicide at alarming rates –
A French Farmer Commits Suicide Every 2 Days –http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/10/11/french-farmer-suicide-study_n_4085319.html