Climate change and Farmers Suicides: Evidence from India and Australia

A link that’s going to get more and more coverage here at Stuffed and Starved is that between climate change and the world food system. The best resource for anyone interested in finding out how the way we eat is hostage to fossil fuels, is this article by Richard Manning over at Harpers.

“Every calorie we eat is backed up by at least a calorie of oil, more like ten.”

What doesn’t come out so clearly from his essay, or his book is the vast human cost of our dependence on fossil fuels for food.

As ever, those who bear this cost are those at the front end of the food system: farmers. Recent news brings two independent but linked examples of the consequences of climate change. In Australia, in Goulburn, many farmers are “hanging on by their fingernails…[and] suicide rates are rising rapidly” according to this Herald Tribune report. And in India, where so many suicides have already taken place, parliamentarians in India are already making the connections between climate and suicide. As the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reported yesterday, not only is climate change a reality and ‘very likely’ man made, but an integral part of the change will involve change in rainfall patterns.

It’s a very small leap of logic from observing that rain failures are usually the factor that tips farmers toward suicide, to observing that less (and less predictable) rain will increase suicide rates.

And why is that? Because farmers’ lives are already so very precarious. Indebted, living life on the edge, it only takes a small external shock to catalyse despair. Sometimes that shock is a medical expense. Sometimes the cost of a wedding. And now outrageous fortune has one more arrow in her quiver.

Expect to hear nothing of this from the oil companies. Indeed, breaking news today from here in the Bay Area, BP (formerly British Petroleum, now “Beyond Petroleum”), has linked up with the University of California at Berkeley to begin a $500million biofuels initiative. All this under the guise of fixing climate change. But will this do anything to change the precarious lives of farmers and agricultural workers? It will not. It can not. And it’s already taking its toll. See yesterday’s post on Tortilla prices for an expanded set of links on the market manipulation of which Mexican and US corporations are guilty.