The political economy of farmers’ suicides in India: indebted cash-crop farmers with marginal landholdings explain state-level variation in suicide rates

A recent Lancet article reported the first reliable estimates of suicide rates in India. National-level suicide rates are among the highest in the world, but suicide rates vary sharply between states and the causes of these differences are disputed. We test whether differences in the structure of agricultural production explain inter-state variation in suicides rates. This hypothesis is supported by a large number of qualitative studies, which argue that the liberalization of the agricultural sector in the early-1990s led to an agrarian crisis and that consequently farmers with certain socioeconomic characteristics–cash crops cultivators, with marginal landholdings, and debts–are at particular risk of committing suicide. The recent Lancet study, however, contends that there is no evidence to support this hypothesis.

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