05/20/2015, 00.00

Caritas India: Organic farming to counter rising famer suicides

In 2014 at least 1,109 farmers took their lives: 986 in Maharashtra alone. Workers go into debt to buy fertilizers and pesticides, but the crops fail and they cannot repay the bills. The Executive Director Fr. Frederick D'Souza speaks to AsiaNews about the Catholic Charity’s response to the emergency.

Rome (AsiaNews) - Promoting organic farming "to stop the suicides among farmers, forced to the extreme act by an unbearable poverty." This is one of the biggest challenges that Caritas India faces in the Asian country, as the executive director, Fr. Frederick D'Souza told AsiaNews. The priest was in Rome for the XX General Assembly of the organization. (May 12 to 17).

The work of Caritas India is concentrated on two main areas: initiatives for development and disaster management. "As an agency of the Catholic Church - said the director - we support the rights of children, women, and farmers. We aim to develop livelihoods to reduce poverty in the cities and in the countryside. We are also engaged in the fight against human trafficking and climate change. "

Promoting sustainable agriculture is becoming more and more necessary in India, where in recent years the number of farmers forced to suicide have increased. The rate is highest in Maharashtra where out of 1,109 confirmed cases in 2014, 986 took place in the State. Compared to 2013 there was an overall increase of 26 percent.

"For us - said Fr. D'Souza - one of the biggest challenges of all is to give all the poor of the country a really sustainable long term livelihood. If you have a job, you have food and you are not starving; You can send your children to school and take care of yourself if you're sick. "

The emergence of suicides among farmers "is related to this matter: the main reason is the lack of earnings. In recent years non-sustainable agriculture has spread, in which it makes extensive use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides for so-called cash crops, crops that have an immediate economic return, but which are dependent on these chemicals. "

"The farmers – he says - go into debt to buy these products, but the harvest that results will never be enough to support his family and pay off the debt. These people feel a certain type of social honor, they have their own dignity, and prefer to commit suicide rather than admit failure ".

The problem is that "this way of farming is creating a vicious circle with no way out. Fertilizers and pesticides deplete the earth, which can only produce a certain type of seed and only if stimulated by chemicals. At that point it is difficult to change to a more organic form of agriculture ".

On the disasters, finally the priest adds, "every time we go on the ground and we try to respond to the emergency. The latest case is that of the earthquake in Nepal. We call this a 'humanitarian response', which the government of India considers one of the best. This makes us proud because it is a contribution that we give to the nation as part of the Catholic Church. "

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