Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Farmers’ Suicide: The fragmented class and their unconsciousness

With his inquisitive mindset Kaleidoscope travels through some of the highest potato producing villages in West Bengal a few months back. Last week one of the villagers calls him to inform that one of his research participants, Mr. X has committed suicide.


Apparently, it is a heated debate between Mr. X and his wife which compels Mr. X to consume pesticide to die eventually. Pretty straight in surface. However, underneath of this incident there is an endless story of his debt to the cold storage owner and local money lenders. Cumulated by the huge loss with potato cultivation and business for last two years.

What happens in potato business?

It’s a tricky game of investment and return. Sometimes you are paid enough. Sometimes your property is at stake. An unpredictable fluctuation can haunt you and can change you. Usually, the small scale cultivators invest in the business, as series of middlemen hinders them from profit making. When you are into the business, you are given loan from storage owners, middlemen, and local money lenders. Either you pay back with high rate of interest or you sell the “potato bond” – the paper containing information of stored potato. When you take loan, you are to exchange the “bond” to pay off or simply to sustain as the interest increases rapidly. When you exchange “bond” the buyer takes loan – again a debt remains unpaid.

A journey to nowhere!

A small scale farmer can have a big dream with potato investment. Kaleidoscope finds examples and rumours about investment in potato business and overnight profit. When, one enters in the business chain he is aided. With aids, and cheap availability of potato (highly perishable) he is easily motivated to invest even more. Eventually, even if the price raises, existing debt, family maintenance, and labour cost gives a marginal return.

What does it have to do with class consciousness?

While one might find difficulty in placing these phenomena with the concept of trade union, it is not difficult to understand the nature of exploitation through formal and informal channels. The small scale investors do not form a group. They are not organised, they do not have an organisation. The oligopoly of cold storages, coalition between existing power groups use this fragmented sector to maximise their utility.

Well, bringing class consciousness and organising their activities is a day dream. The sector is inherently fragmented in different ways including location, class, caste, religion, and political ideology.

Either we can wait for class consciousness to disembark and watch thousands (more than 17,500 farmers between 2002 – 2006, Patel, 2007) of farmers committing suicide which is increasing each year (Meeta and Rajivlochan, 2006) or we can raise our voices compelling our Govt. to come with concrete policy principally by breaking this oligopoly and developing micro credit facilities.

See for more details:

Harris-White, B. (2008). Rural Commercial Capital: Agricultural Markets in West bengal. New Delhi: Oxford University Press



  1. Suman, you are so good in writings these days. Like to see you in another height.

  2. can kalidoscope be more specific in what solution should be taken?
    The problem of middleman is also a phenomenon which if not there the system might fail.....so how can be this middleman system be put to an end anyway??

  3. From Kaleidoscope (suman) Once Reliance had taken an endeavour to remove middlemen by directly procuring items from farmers. That would have been a mutually benefiting process, as Reliance or the like would have to invest lesser money and yet, the farmers would have got better price.

    The problem is in West Bengal rural commercial capital has not been developed. the marketing strategy of the agricultural produce is ill developed.

    Furthermore, we need better micro credit facility. Together with these, a politically conscious public sphere could change the scenario.

  4. A co-authored paper on this issue is published in Commodity Vision. Interested people can visit: