As we head into another year of drought in Maharashtra, CRHP has identified that it is increasingly important to work with farmers on sustainable farming practices, food security, and the mental health implications of drought on farmers, their families, and their communities. In the last decade, farmer suicides in India have gained significant attention. This is especially true of Maharashtra, which has the leading rates of farmer suicides in all of India. While this is an important matter that deserves media attention, most media coverage has done an injustice to the complexity of the situation by attributing the cause of these farmers’ deaths in large part to indebtedness. While debt indeed contributes to a feeling of despair that may lead to depression and perhaps to suicidal ideation, the cause of suicide is mental illness. The factors that affect mental illness have a broad range, and while these factors may include indebtedness, the source cannot be reduced to indebtedness.
In an effort to combat this misinformation and to promote farmers’ empowerment through education, CRHP has been developing a new curriculum to address these needs of the community. To this end, with the help of the Mobile Health Team and the Elon Fellow, we have started a new program on sustainable farming practices, which promotes food security and acts as a protective factor against mental illness. Last week, we finished our first pilot of the program with 15 adolescent boys from the Project Village Khandvi, who are pictured below upon graduation.
The goal of this program is to reevaluate current farming practices that have developed as a result of industrial farming technology. While there have been advantages to industrial agriculture, its quick spread into current farming practices without a proper understanding of these often unsustainable practices, have resulted in negative impacts on the community. For example, although in earlier years farmers benefited from unusually high yields due to artificial fertilizers, with repeated use, the soil has been robbed of its natural fertility. This then requires farmers buy more and more artificial fertilizer each year.
In an occupation that is already highly variable as compared to other occupations, it is important to minimize risk and maximize stability to empower farmers and prevent them from feeling helpless and hopeless. This is why this program encourages practices like crop diversification to prevent from entire crop loss, as well as kitchen gardens, which provide a means of food security and vegetable consumption even during a time of drought. Embedded in all of our lessons is an emphasis on sustainable farming practices that work with rather than against nature. These practices are not only beneficial to the earth, but also to mental health, community health, and happy families.
We are excited to develop this program further and to make changes based on the feedback of the Mobile Health Team and the community. Just as developing this curriculum was not an overnight process, adopting these sustainable farming techniques will also take time. However, we hope that through disseminating knowledge on these topics, we will be able to change knowledge, attitudes, and eventually, sustainable farming practices.
Written by: Annalise Tolley