Due to economic pressures leading to irresolvable debt associated with continually failing crops, many farmers have been committing suicide by drinking the very pesticides that no longer work on their crops. Especially in South India, with the growing rise of climate changes and other factors, crop failure has become more and more common causing suicide to spread like an epidemic amongst the suffering farmers. For example, in 2006 in the Vidarbha region of Maharashtra alone, there were 1,044 reported suicides - one every eight hours.
In the spring of this year, after discussions on the issue with Maharashtra Chief Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh, Amma found herself pledging 43 million dollars to address this problem. She admitted later the large dollar amount she had pledged surprised her but in the moment she had felt drawn to offering at least that much to help the situation. As part of the pledge, Amma offered that the MA Math would launch a massive project to provide aid and hope for the future for these struggling farmers.
"The problem cannot be solved through economic packages alone," Amma told the Maharashtra CM. "What is needed is social and spiritual interventions so that the farmers realize that suicide is not the way out. In fact, it only further aggravates the problem for the families. Feeling immense compassion for their suffering due to their unfortunate circumstances, Amma felt counseling and education could really help them get through to the other side. .Yet another generation should not become slaves of emotional weakness like suicide," Amma said. "Rather than that, they should understand that they need to develop self confidence. The future generation should have the mental strength to face life's challenges."
On 27 September 2007, the Ashram inaugurated two programs responding to this dire situation: Vidyamritam and Amrita SREE. These projects focus aid on the places with highest farmer-suicide rates - Maharashtra, Kerala, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh. These two initial relief projects are aimed at lessening the financial strain placed upon such agricultural families.
Vidyamritam - Educational Scholarships
Through Vidyamritam, the Ashram is providing full scholarships for free education to 100,000 children (ages 10 to 15) of farmers living below the poverty line. Many of the beneficiaries are in fact children who have lost one or both parents to suicide. The children receive a monthly stipend until they finish their education, subject to their performance in their studies.
Since the announcement of the project, thousands of applications have been received and they continue to pour in daily. Because of the huge response, the number of beneficiaries continues to grow.
As an extension of this project, the MA Math is conducting awareness programs to inculcate life skills for personality development.
A newsletter containing articles, stories and discussion forums to further facilitate the intellectual and mental growth is also being received by all the children. Furthermore, special advanced-education camps and symposiums on environmental preservation are being conducted.
Amrita SREE (Self-Reliance Education & Employment)
Through Amrita SREE, the Ashram is providing free vocational training to 5,000 different groups of women from impoverished agricultural families. Though many of these women have now incurred their husband's debt due to suicide, the MA math has been supporting them in building their own businesses through vocational training in various fields, including tailoring, making snacks for small-scale industries, electrical repair, and making paper products. After completion of their training, the women are given the necessary start-up capital to begin small, home-based businesses.
The use of pesticides and its effect on the life of farmers:
Currently many non-organic, commercial foods are genetically modified. Genetically modified organisms (GMO) present a profound danger to humans as well as the ecosystem. Many species of animals, such as the monarch butterflies are becoming extinct due to the GMOs. For vegetarians, GMOs pose another problem, as they are frequently spliced from animal DNA. It is hypothesized by many experts that the GMO food will eventually even alter human DNA. As GMOs are a recent creation their long term effects are unknown.
In India and other developing nations, western based GMO / pesticide companies are aggressively promoting extremely heavy use of chemicals for farming. This is leading to serious depletion of soil and contamination of the water. Many insects are developing stronger resistance to pesticides and sometimes even huge amounts of chemical are ineffective. For this reason many farmers have little or no yield, year after year. Having gone deeply in debt to these chemical companies, the farmers begin to feel hopeless. Unfortunately, large numbers of Indian farmers are committing suicide by drinking their pesticides. Amma has expressed concern about this issue, and is working to help the farmers and their families. When we choose organic, non-GMO foods, we can also do our part to end this tragic situation.
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