A socio-hydrological comparative assessment explaining regional variances in suicide rate amongst farmers in Maharashtra, India
Abstract. Maharashtra is one of the states in India that has witnessed one of the highest rates of farmer suicides as proportion of total number of suicides. Most of the farmer suicides in Maharashtra are from semi-arid divisions such as Marathwada where cotton has been historically grown. Other dominant crops produced include cereals, pulses, oilseeds and sugarcane. Cotton (fibers), oilseeds and sugarcane providing highest value addition per unit cultivated area and cereals and pulses the least. Hence it is not surprising that smallholders take risks growing high value crops without “visualising” the risks it entails such as those corresponding to price and weather shocks.
We deploy recently developed smallholder socio-hydrology modelling framework to understand the underlying dynamics of the crisis. It couples the dynamics of six main variables that are most relevant at the scale of a smallholder: water storage capacity (root zone storage and other ways of water storage), capital, livestock, soil fertility and fodder biomass. The hydroclimatic variability is accounted for at sub-annual scale and influences the socio-hydrology at annual scale. The model incorporates rule-based adaptation mechanisms (e.g., adjusting expenditures on food and fertilizers, selling livestocks) of smallholders when they face adverse conditions, such as high variability in rainfall or in agricultural prices.
The model is applied to two adjoining divisions of Maharashtra: Marathwada and Desh. The former is the division with relatively higher farmer suicide rates than the latter. Diverse spatial data sets of precipitation, potential evaporation, soil, agricultural census based farm inputs, cropping pattern and prices are used to understand the dynamics of small farmers in these divisions, and to attribute farmer distress rates to soil types, hydroclimatic variability and crops grown.
Comparative socio-hydrologic assessment across the two regions confirms existing narratives: low (soil) water storage capacities, no irrigation and poor access to alternative sources of incomes are to blame for the crisis, suggesting that smart indigenous solutions such as rain-water harvesting and better integration of smallholder systems to efficient agricultural supply chains are needed to tackle this development challenge.