Ways Out of the Debt Trap

In the Indian region of Vidarbha, many farmers are up to their ears in debt and have no prospects. The high prices for cultivating their products and climate change pressurise them into subsistence living. The conversion to ecologically sustainable agriculture brings relief – for the farmers, the soil and the wallet.

Cotton, nothing but cotton, as far as the eye can see! In India’s Maharashtra state for several decades most farmers have concentrated exclusively on monocultures, so nothing but cotton grows on their fields. Or sugar beet 

In many fields you search in vain for vegetables, fruit and other edible plants. While local farmers not only gained greater independence from the market, this was also the cause of a decline in plant diversity. The local plants became less resilient to disease. Arable production without the constant use of expensive chemical fertilisers and pesticides seems impossible. 

The high expenditure is driving small farmers into the abyss: they are in debt down to their last shirt. From one year to the next, they are being pulled deeper and deeper into the whirlpool of debt. Many of them can see no way out and commit suicide. Some 200,000 farmers are said to have taken their own lives already and according to a government study, about 600,000 others are in acute danger of committing suicide. This is an incredible statistic and a trend that hit headlines around the globe. 

Ecologically sustainable agriculture sends a signal

SWISSAID is working on location to break through this vicious circle and to show small farmers how they can convert to organic cultivation methods. The review of the first project phase clearly shows how the stressed soil regenerates, how high costs for chemical fertilisers and pesticides are reduced and the pressure of the debt burden disappears. Organic cultivation methods using self-produced fertilisers, compost and various types of organic pesticides put a stop to the dependence on costly chemicals and also lead to better harvests. The farmers are therefore better equipped to fight droughts, erratic rain spells, heat waves and the other catastrophic effects of climate change.

In the upcoming project phase, the number of farmers actively participating will be increased. More and more farmers are learning to cultivate their own locally adapted and extremely robust seeds. In their own tree nurseries, the fruit trees are grown so the produce augments the available food supply as well as providing hedgerows to shelter the fields. Kitchen gardens set a clear signal against the widespread monocultures, thus giving the farmers a secure guarantee of their livelihoods. 

Snowball principle

Following the good example as well as the snowball effect play a crucial role in this project: not all 1,500 farmers involved in the initial project phase were convinced from the word go about the relevance of organic cultivation. Several were worried about a collapse of their harvest if they stopped using chemicals. Due to their precarious income and nutritional situation, the risk of the changeover appeared too great for many farmers. But the factual reports from those farmers, who had already taken this risk, are encouraging. We want to share their experiences with you. Here [LINK] you can read all about Savitas’ journey from humble farmer to respected organic expert. 


Project code: IN 02/12/19

Project costs: 181,209 Swiss francs

Project duration: 2014

Number of beneficiaries: 1,750 farmers from 35 villages