Food, famine and climate change: India's scorched earth

Farmer's widow Sugali Nagamma, 41, with her daughter Devi, 18. Her husband committed suicide three months ago

11th October 2009 The Observer

Suicide is the latest epidemic among farming communities as climate change parches the heart of India, destroying agriculture and plunging the poorest families into crippling debt.

In Andhra Pradesh, everyone we met had lost faith in the weather. “It is,” said one woman, a groundnut farmer and a mother of five, “like a bad husband. You cannot understand his behaviour.” Across the state and much of India the July monsoon had gone missing: it finally turned up 45 days late, and inadequate. “Scanty rain,” we were told. “Maybe just five minutes one day. Raining on one field but not the next.” No one had much idea why this had happened, and not many have heard the term “climate change“. What they do know is that it is getting hotter, and that you can’t rely on the rains any more.

By the end of September, when we arrived, a drought had been officially declared in Andhra Pradesh. Food prices were rising – rice up 20%, sugar 45%, most vegetables by even more. In Anantapur, the driest district of this dry state in the centre of the subcontinent, the farming families – some of the poorest people in India – were in crisis. Adults were going without meals to save money, children were being taken out of school, the older ones sent off to the city of Bangalore to look for work. The farmers were selling animals, registering for the government’s rural employment scheme, doing anything they could to stave off the moneylenders. Then early this month, massive storms brought floods that drove nearly half a million people in Andhra Pradesh from their homes.

Read on at the Guardian website

 

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