Wednesday, May 18, 2005
Free trade 'behind suicide epidemic'
17 May 2005
LONDON: The hardline policies of trade liberalisation and privatisation backed by Western governments have led to a suicide "epidemic" among Indian farmers and inflicted terrible social costs in other developing countries.
The London-based Christian Aid group has urged Prime Minister Tony Blair to use Britain's temporary presidency of the G8 group of leading industrial countries to "bring about a radical change of direction" in development policy.
Case studies in a report from the aid agency illustrate the costs of what the group termed the "free-market credo": in India, the crop farmers are driven to suicide; in Ghana, it has crushed poultry producers and threatened democratic institutions; and in Jamaica, sugar cane production has plummeted, sending women into drug-running and prostitution.
When the IMF and World Bank stepped in to help India in 1991, they encouraged the government to devalue the rupee in an attempt to boost exports, while farmers were told to produce cash crops for export, such as cotton and sugar, at the expense of staple crops such as rice and wheat.
But the move pushed farmers into debt as they borrowed money to buy essentials, while state subsidies were cut.
Meanwhile, liberal banking reforms meant that interest rates grew unchecked, making it harder to get loans and easier to have property seized when farmers could not pay back debts.
Emphasis on exports, of both cash crops and staple foods, led to a sharp decline in food stocks for domestic consumption and increased hunger at home, Christian Aid said.
"So debt rises, heaping misery on poor farmers to such an extent that many take what they see as the only way out: suicide," the report concludes.
In the state of Andhra Pradesh, suicide rose from 200 in 1999 to 2115 last year. Almost 4400 suicides have been recorded since 1998, according to the report.