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'UK caused AP farmers' suicides'
H S Rao in London
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May 16, 2005 21:09 IST

Trade reforms backed and funded by the British government have caused an agricultural crisis in India, leading to a large number of suicides among impoverished farmers, particularly in Andhra Pradesh, a leading charity organisation claimed in London [Images] on Monday.

More than 4,000 farmers have killed themselves in Andhra Pradesh, since a programme of free-market measures was implemented by a 'hardline liberalising regime' (Chandrababu Naidu [Images] government) with the help of a 1.65 million pounds (approx Rs 84 crore) grant from Britain's Department for International Development, a study for Christian Aid claimed.

According to the report, the dramatic increase in the suicide rate, which saw 2,115 farmers take their lives last year compared with 588 in 2003, is directly linked to British support for policies joining aid to economic liberalisation in developing economies.

"It is a scandal that the British government has backed. It pumped British taxpayers' money into schemes, which have contributed to poor Indian farmers killing themselves," director of Christian Aid, Daleep Mukarji said.

"The report shows in stark detail the damage that is done to poor people when the dogma of so-called 'free' trade is pursued in the name of poverty relief," he said.

The study commended the DFID, which has spent 248 million pounds on aid to Andhra Pradesh since 2000, for its work on improving health and education in the region.

However, it found the ministry was also bankrolling the closure, restructuring and privatisation of 43 state-run enterprises, including agencies supporting farmers.

The programme, run by the Telugu Desam Party government until it was voted out of office last year, was advised by consultants from the London-based Adam Smith International -- a commercial enterprise affiliated to the right-wing free-market think tank, the Adam Smith Institute.

The consultants were working for Implementation Secretariat, a body set up by the state government with the help of a grant from the DFID.

Research found that farmers in Andhra Pradesh, who had traditionally grown their own food, were persuaded between 1999 and 2004 to switch over to cash crops, and incurred large debts which they were unable to pay due to fluctuating global prices.

The result has been a catalogue of family tragedies among thousands of farmers who were forced to approach unscrupulous moneylenders to fund fertilisers, pesticides and water boreholes that produce little or no financial return.

One of the methods of suicide chosen by the victims was to drink the pesticide they hoped would transform their economic prospects.

Both Adam Smith International, which said it had no role in drawing up the liberalisation policy, and the DFID denied that there was a direct link between the high rate of suicide and market reforms.

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