As the local food movement continues to increase in popularity for health, ethical and economical reasons across the country and globe, we’re becoming more aware of our farmers. Urban farming is a hot trend further inspiring our romantic connection with bucolic imagery and quaint farm style living. But the truth is, farmer suicide rates are nearly double the national suicide rates for the general population.
Newsweek reported that the number of farmer suicides make it the highest of any occupation, and wrote Max Kutner, it’s such an unbelievably high number around the world, that farmer suicide is essentially becoming an international crisis. What’s more, the farmer suicide numbers may even be higher than reported because often, suicides are reported as farming accidents instead.
According to Newsweek, farming is about as high stress a job as you can imagine. It’s a non-stop commitment with late nights, early mornings and no vacation time. And more often than not, not very much money either. If a farmer is growing certain commodity crops, such as corn or soy, there’s a good chance s/he is tangled in the biotech industry—buying genetically modified seeds from companies such as Monsanto, which has been known to sue small farmers—and win—sometimes over patent infringements that happened by accident, like when neighboring crops drift on to a farmer’s property.
There are other stresses and causes for suicidal depression too: Farming is isolating and can be extremely lonely. Newsweek reports that farmers are often caught up in the preconceptions of the farmer image here in the U.S.: a hardworking nose-to-the-grind type who may be actually be hiding or denying depression. Long-term exposure to pesticides and insecticides may also play a role in depression, but there hasn’t been conclusive science on that yet.
The numbers around the world are also heartbreaking: Every week in the U.K. at least one farmer commits suicides. In France, it’s every two days. Australia reports one every four days. Chinese farmers are committing suicide daily in protest over government possession of arable farm land. India has been at the center of the farmer suicide issue when activist Vandana Shiva brought to light the backlash growing genetically modified cotton brought to its farmers, who reportedly went so deep into debt to Monsanto when GMO cotton failed to meet expected yields that many of the farmers drank the Roundup herbicide rather than live with the shame of debt. Newsweek says India reports more than 17,000 farmer suicides annually.
With any luck, as our awareness about the importance of the quality of food we eat increases, it will extend to the people growing it as well. It’s important that we invest in our farmers, and help to provide them the support—in the fields and off—that they need in order to farm with the pride it deserves.
There are support groups and hotlines in most every area of the country. If you know a farmer struggling with depression, please get them help today.
Find Jill on Twitter @jillettinger
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