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Last Updated: Monday, 16 May 2005, 16:08 GMT 17:08 UK
Head-to-head: India's farm suicides
Thousands of farmers have committed suicide in the south Indian province of Andhra Pradesh.

The charity Christian Aid says the UK government is partly to blame. The Department for International Development (Dfid) disagrees. Both groups give their side of the story.


Up until this year, Dfid's position was to encourage liberalisation and privatisation as the twin motors that lift people out of poverty. We say they were wrong.

A widow of a dead farmer in India
Some estimate 2,000 farmers have committed suicide in the past year

As a consequence of their policies and those of the World Bank (WB) and International Monetary Fund (IMF), many people's lives have been damaged.

In Andhra Pradesh, the IMF and WB used these neo-liberal economic ideas to justify shifting millions of farmers away from traditional methods of farming into a mechanised, market-based agriculture industry. Many farmers found they had to pay far more for their pesticides, fertilisers and seeds, while at the same time gambling on the markets to sell their produce. Some did well; many lost out.

Then in walked Dfid and, through the Implementation Secretariat which it funds, cut back and privatised many of the farmers' support networks. There were 43 agencies that were either privatised or re-structured out of existence, costing the jobs of 45,000 public service workers. They included the Seed Development Agency and state-owned irrigation and agricultural agencies.

So, in the middle of their own crisis, the farmers had fewer and fewer people to turn to.

This is not just Christian Aid attacking the government for no reason. Last month, a special committee of inquiry into the suicide of a farmer in the region concluded that these liberalisation policies had directly led to the farmer's death.

We are not against free trade, but the current situation is not free and it is not fair. Dfid has pursued these policies across the world, but nowhere have the effects been more pronounced and more disastrous than in Andhra Pradesh. It is hard to reconcile their actions with their stated aim of helping people out of poverty.


The government of Andhra Pradesh decided to start privatising loss-making state-owned enterprises. We are not forcing countries to undertake economic reform but we should be clear about its potential benefits. Economic reform is crucial for poverty reduction. It is a pre-condition for countries like India to be able to secure higher growth rates. Countries like China and Uganda have all benefited from this approach. Over 2m livelihoods have been safeguarded as a result of the reforms in Andhra Pradesh.

A farmer walking over dry earth
The UK government says bad weather should be considered

Dfid is committed to reducing poverty. For example, in Andhra Pradesh we are expanding access to education and giving poor people access to tuberculosis treatment. Christian Aid itself acknowledges in its report that Dfid is pursuing pro-poor policies in Andhra Pradesh.

The money that otherwise would have gone to supporting loss-making enterprises in the state can now be devoted to putting children in school and treating serious illnesses, like tuberculosis.

Many farmers in the region have worked small plots that could not yield a sufficient living for themselves and their families. This is why we have encouraged them to work in other areas and given them practical support to do so.

It is unclear what the higher than average rate of suicides in Andhra Pradesh can be attributed to. However it is worth pointing out that there have been successive droughts that have resulted in crop failures amongst farmers. The Indian prime minister has asked central and state governments to examine the causes of these suicides.

Dfid has not imposed privatisation on Andhra Pradesh. Our programme in the state has been developed in consultation with the government and civil society organisations. We believe countries should be able to decide for themselves sector by sector which industries they need to protect and which should be liberalised.

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