Farming is amongst the toughest jobs out there. The hours are long, there’s no guarantee of success, and there are a lot of factors at play that aren’t under the farmer’s control.
Farmers are reliant on the weather, which is something they have no control over, and often fields of crops fail due to a variety of things, such as too little rain, too much rain, hurricanes, pests, insects, wild animals (kangaroos and deer especially) and a whole host of different factors. And because of these crop failures, farmers are unable to repay their debts to suppliers and banks, and get deeper and deeper into debt. It’s a very tough situation.
Another problem which compounds the debt issues, is the big chain stores, such as Safeway/Woolworths, IGA (Independant Grocers of Australia), Coles and all the other big chain stores don’t pay farmers as much as they should for the quality of farmer’s produce. One figure which I’ve heard quoted (and which I’m unable to verify) is that farmers are paid 10c for every dollar that the chain stores sell the produce for. That’s incredibly low. Should grocery stores really be able to receive a 90% profit on goods they only have the responsibility to sell? I know it’s the market at work, but it still seems highly unfair.
The weather, failure of crops, increasing debt, long hours and minimal profit (if any) would lead any person to dispair, and it frequently does. In fact, it leads farmers to such depths of despair that many see suicide as the only option, and take their own lives. It’s a terrible situation, and there should be more community and governmental support for those who provide us with food.
In a news release dated February 2007, an Australian non-profit organisation specialising in assisting people with depression and other mental disorders named BeyondBlue, cites research stating that one Australian farmer will take their own lives every four days. That’s a very high number.
Sadly, another element in this issue is that many farmers are too proud to seek governmental assistance through aid and the like, and who can really blame them? The government’s track record to do with farms, farmers and rural areas is very sketchy, to say the least, even while the Howard Government was in power. Now that Kevin Rudd and the Australian SocialistLabor Party is in control both at a Federal Level and a State Level, the situation isn’t going to improve. Labor is the party for the inner city types, certainly not the country types.
In an October 2007 article, the figure of 106 suicides by farmers over the past seven years was cited, and sadly, it’s easy to accept that figure as true. It’s a silent tragedy, one which isn’t receiving much coverage in the Australian media. The likelihood of suicide amongst farmers when dealing with the factors I set out earlier has been recognised by some, however, and they are offering support.
One such organisation is BeyondBlue, but while it has a great deal of expertise with depression and suicide, the organisation I’m specifically talking about is the NSW Farmers Mental Health Network.
They state on their site* (PDF FILE) that “There is a growing body of evidence that the people in agriculture are not coping with the pressures that they face, and the mental illness that they experience. Farm male owners and managers commit suicide at around twice the rate of the national average.”, and I completely believe them. Farmers have a lot to deal with, and being so far out from the high population areas, there’s not always the support they need.
The farmers in Australia are currently experiencing a drought, and the effect on farming communities was seen a long time ago, warned about, and a few, albeit not enough, support systems were created. Farmers do it tough, but they’re amongst the strongest of people, always willing to help out their mates, hard workers, and just generally strong men (for the most part). But while they’ve got such strengths, they’ve got to compete against nature, and that’s not easy.
This isn’t only an Australian problem though. It’s happening in India, and Scotland (PDF) (a country of which I’m rather fond), Italy, South America, Africa, and very probably many other countries. Most of the problems I’ve outlined aren’t only Australian problems. India, by far, has the highest number of suicides with one every 30 minutes.
So what can be done to help farmers the world over? Clearly they’re experiencing some real emotional, social, physical and financial difficulties, and each difficulty compounds the effects of the others. My first suggestion, through the eyes of a 22 year old who has never tried her hand at farming, is for the grocery stores to increase how much they pay farmers. Of course, they won’t, but it’s a nice idea, and it would certainly help the farmers with their financial difficulties. My second suggestion is wider support networks in the communities that require it. My third suggestion is more government assistance, although many of these men are too proud to accept it. The fourth, and arguably most important suggestion, is to provide more water to farmers. After all, they’re growing our food, and food needs water to grow. Do we really want to import all of our fresh produce from halfway across the world? I don’t think so.
Please add your own suggestions in comments.
*If you only click on one link in this post, make it that one.