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Surprising link: Farmer suicides and climate change

Surprising link: Farmer suicides and climate change

By Udita Shukla

Quite a lot has been said about melting glaciers, disappearing forests, and smoggy cities. Earth’s atmosphere has begun succumbing to the pressure of incessant burning of fuels and relentless deforestation. On the flip side, what a regular Social Science textbook or a generic news report would probably not mention is the surprising relationship between global warming and farmer suicides. As per a research conducted by a doctoral student, Tamma Carleton, at the University of California-Berkeley, around 59,000 farmer suicides throughout India attribute their occurrence to climate change and its influence on crop patterns in the country. The number is as startling as is the inference.

How do we describe this link?

The causes behind the steadily rising farmer suicide rate in India has been tied to various issues ranging from the socio-economic marginalisation of farmers to ruthless landowners and overuse of chemical fertilisers and pesticides time and again, but never has climate change been awarded such an extremely high weighting. The route adopted by Carlton in her research was analysis and examination of government suicide records beginning from forty-seven years ago up to the present time; the study included assessment of crop-yield trends over the investigative period and the corresponding climate patterns.

There was a conspicuous correlation between every one-degree Celsius temperature-rise and an additional seventy suicides. The implications of her report become all the more transparent when such episodes are seen to occur predominantly during India’s growing season—a period when heat can destroy extensive crops. According to Carlton, the reported suicides account for an upward spike of India’s overall suicide rate by 6.8 per cent.

Climate change could drastically affect agriculture

It goes to show how far-fetched and penetrating the implications of climate change have become. It is no more about the future of our planet, it is now about a more current and serious issue than that. The agricultural sector is the mother of far too many industries, for example—packaged foods, ready-to-eat meals, frozen foods, jute and cotton industries are among the several others that may soon see the end of the road. Additionally, fickle and erratic crop patterns and insufficient agricultural produce have the potential to unleash the monster of political rebellion, economic downslide, a drastic transition of commodity-hoarding by local traders. Such events undoubtedly lead to the downfall of any nation or economy.

Climate change began as a scientific hypothesis, supposedly belonging to the tiers of the research-oriented. Evidently, it has now graduated to a threatening malady that is sporadic, and seemingly uncontrollable. What is unpleasantly true, is that the historical timeline that the research covers, stretches to three decades ago—an era when global warming was treated as a piece of fiction—when the focus was only on trade, technology and economic boom, and hardly anyone thought of the environment as a life-giving resource to be preserved and protected.

About time we took climate change seriously

Despite all the cynicism revolving around the sustained levels of pollution in several cities and urban hubs in India, some government reports do show us a silver lining. As per Dr Harsh Vardhan, Ministry of Science & Technology, Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change and Ministry of Earth Sciences, the said ministry was able to conclude a total of 1,341 projects against the target of 1,248 during the year 2016-17.

We do not need another Paris Climate Accord or the Rio Summit, but a consolidated implementation of the printed word. A global issue requires a concerted effort from the entire community, focused towards technologies that empower the earth, straighten up the weather patterns that have gone haywire, rather than those that capitalise upon the market opportunities. If we intend to stay and survive on the planet, we need to change our priorities from comfort and luxury to sustenance and responsibility- towards the environment and life as a whole!

Featured Image Source: Pixabay

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