In a world where money seems to move everything, I have always been interested in how to live without money. This perhaps explains my interest in agriculture: it is the most basic of trades, in that it gives us sustenance to eat. We can live without money, but we cannot live without food.
I decided to visit India because, regardless of the giant steps this emerging nation has taken towards modernization, some 850 million people (out of a population of roughly 1.2 billion) still rely on farming for a living.
I quickly discovered that Indian agriculture is undergoing a deep crisis due to resource scarcity, decreasing land availability and accessibility, emerging water scarcity, and soil degradation. This is a serious situation, as farmers represent well over half of the country’s population.
In such a traditional society, men are still deemed responsible for providing for the whole family. Farmers who realize that they can no longer fulfill this role feel that their honor has been shattered. This frustration has driven many to despair—or to credits that are impossible to repay. Most of these farmers are tired of fighting, and they are drowning in debt. So they have decided to protest with the only means remaining to them: their lives.
According to the National Crime Records Bureau, more than 300,000 of these farmers have killed themselves in the last twenty years after falling into debt and despair because they were not able to run their farms.
Perhaps this could have been avoided if the government had offered help. But currently, most subsidies go to large agribusinesses. Public policies are designed to make local farming unviable and unprofitable. This high suicide rate may be a reaction to the end of institutional safety nets.
—Fernando del Berro
Editors’ Note: Fernando was a finalist in the LensCulture Portrait Awards 2016. The 4th annual LensCulture Portrait Awards are now open for entries! Enter now for a chance to get your work in front of editors from Vanity Fair, The New Yorker, National Geographic and the rest of the world-class jury. There are also a host of other great awards. You can find out more about the competition on its Call for Entries.
If you’re interested in seeing more work on this topic, we’d recommend you check out one of these previous articles: Pioneer Valley, an intimate and spiritual look at farming that pays homage to classic pastoral scenes in art; A Myth of Two Souls, Vasantha Yogananthan’s extensive journey through India inspired by the Ramayana; and Marginal Trades, a project on the centuries-old professions in India that are starting to fade as more lucrative business possibilities arise.