Every Half Hour, a Farmer in India Commits Suicide

New agricultural technology aims to end more than a decade-long trend of farmer suicides

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Every half hour, a farmer in India commits suicide. This disturbing statistic comes from Fast Company reporter Lakshmi Sandhana who explains that "low yields, extremely reduced profits, and mounting debt make leading an agricultural life incredibly difficult." In fact, 17,638 Indian farmers killed themselves in 2009 alone. The suicide trend among Indian farmers is hardly new. Last year, Indian environmental activist Vandana Shiva told CNN "The farmer suicides started in 1997. And it's directly related to indebtedness, and indebtedness created by two factors linked to globalization. These factors, CNN's George Learner explained, "were the ceding of control of the seed supply to the corporate chemical industry--leading to increased production costs for already-struggling farmers--as well as falling food prices in a global agricultural economy."

The positive news is that, according to Sandhana, a new system is currently being designed to make farmers lives easier "by giving farmers access to experts, and experts access to information about the farms." The system, called mKrishi, provides farmers with "mobile phones with built-in cameras and specialized software to send photos of their crops and queries to experts. Sensor networks and a weather station in the village provide relevant data that's sent to a database," Sandhana explains. "The system also employs innovative predictive crop disease forecasting. Data from the sensors powers disease prediction models; if the risk index exceeds a certain threshold, it triggers the farmer's phone automatically, warning them to take preventative measures." Preliminary usage of mKrishi has already been proven successful in a few small Indian villages, giving the designers hope that they can finally curb the suicide rate among farmers by assuring them "that their livelihood is not an impossible fight against nature."

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.