It is expected that the technological developments such as robotics and artificial intelligence, will reduce the human contribution in agriculture. Even if some farms with hundreds of animals have started to operate with only one person, the manpower in agriculture is the most important element. In farms, the owners and their families constitute the farmer’s population of the whole country.

Recently the unforeseen developments in world geography and expected demographic realities, are causing the people to ask each other: “will we be experiencing any food crises in future?” Lately the problems related to climate changes come up to the point: S. Arabia has decided to stop to cultivate one of the main crops (wheat) due to drought. On the other hand while the amount of cultivated land is not changing significantly the number of people to be fed per one hectare will be almost tripled from the year 1960 to 2020.

Global warming is not the only threat for tomorrow’s food crisis. The increase in population and the rising in living standards will cause changes in consumption patterns and increase the demand for food. Crops for biofuel and other products will also need additional land. It is obvious that the numbers of family farms are considerably shrinking. How will the growing demands of food, animal feed and biofuel industry be met?

In countries such as Nepal, Nigeria, and Abyssinia, around 80% of the population is still engaged in agriculture, but in the USA and in many EU countries this rate is less than 2%. Farming populations are declining in almost every country. But on the causes of this decline there are two opposing views.
• Developed countries are able to feed their whole people more cheaply with less than 2% of its population so developing countries have to reduce the number of farmers to decrease the cost of agricultural products,
• In developing countries young farmers leave their villages. How can agricultural production be guaranteed with older farmers and abandoned agricultural lands?

This issue is the subject of agricultural strategists and related academics. In practice, it appears that family farm incentives or young farmer support programs do not seem to provide a permanent solution. Unfortunately, the farming sector brings the least revenue compared to others. Under changing climatic conditions food systems should focus on solving the problems of farming systems by bringing needed structural change, such as optimum farming land and professional management.

Now, let us try to examine the agricultural production from the perspective of the farmer: First, consider the economic side of the event. Unfortunately, in the free world market, it is not easy to balance product prices with increasing and unpredictable input costs. And so the farmer has no income guarantee. Those are the main reasons for escaping from agriculture-farm bankruptcies and even farmers’ suicides. In addition, from a social point of view, who would choose a career where he / she cannot enjoy any holiday or even a weekend vacation?

In many countries, the rates of suicide observed in the agricultural sector are not found in any other sector. Farmers’ suicides in developed countries, as well as in developing countries like India, are quite significant, even if some of them are not appearing in the media. In one of the socio-economic analyses on farmers’ suicides in India, the situation has been analyzed deeper. The study started with the argument that the main reason of 250,000 farmer’s suicides between 1995 and 2011 in India were due to growing GMO cotton. However the transgenic cotton farming started first in 2002 (Graph) and It has also been found that cotton was not the main product in the 5 states where the most of the suicides happened. The main reasons for the suicides in the said analysis must therefore have been instabilities in production costs, droughts, excessive precipitations, etc. Additionally credit systems such as market instability, inadequate business loan, repayment issues, loan sharks and many other reasons might be listed.

Situation in the USA: Depending on the year, it is not uncommon for farmers to have temporary troubles in all countries. The reason for the financial difficulties of some of the producers in some states in the USA today is completely political. US farmers are the leading victims of the World Trade War. With China’s 50% extra tax on soybeans as a counteroffensive the bankruptcy of the Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin farmers in 2008 has doubled according to the Wall Street Journal .Then increasing bankruptcies of soybean farmers of competing with Brazil and similar countries should not be underestimated. In the USA the suicide rates in rural areas are higher than those in metropolitan areas. The number of suicides in rural areas in 2013 was 17 per 100000, whereas those in big cities were only 11 .

Why do European farmers commit suicide? In the year of 2015 the National Institute of Health in France published a research report according which the number of farmer’ suicide was one of every day. The European Union, the US and other countries begun to impose economic sanctions to Russia, after annexation of Crimea on March 18, 2014. This has been followed by Russia’s embargo to agricultural products of these countries. Some media had estimated that Russia was going to paralyze the European agricultural sector. Thus French farmers did a show of protest in Paris with tractors demanding changes in the agricultural policies. Meanwhile, in the French pork and apple market some problems occurred. The cost of losing the Russian agricultural market could have reached $ 80 billion. This led to some urgent measures to be taken. But there were problems in their timing. According to EUROACTIV , on 16 Oct 2018, French farmers committed suicides one every other day. These suicides were usually found among small farmers of 45-54 years old. According to the same publication the situation was almost the same as in Germany and Belgium.

In general, the decline in the income of farmers is due to price instability, rising costs and extreme climatic events. Therefore, in the future, except for greenhouses and some other special cases, the chances of small enterprises to survive can only remain at the level of hobby enterprises. The fact that the producer is alone in agricultural activities is the main reason for the young people to go out of agriculture. The number of young farmers goes down every year. For example in Romania only 19 % farmers are under 44 years . Almost all of the Romanian qualified agricultural labor force in the last 10 years moved to Western countries to work for more money in other fields. Remedies should be sought for re-cultivation of abandoned fields. The transformation of small enterprises into “medium” and “large” ones is considered to be inevitable in order to restore the lands to be medium and large scale cultivation. A striking example on this issue is the “Yozgat (Turkey) Kabalı Village Fruit Growing Project carried out with the cooperation of public-private sectors- citizens which will be the subject of the next blog.

Nazimi Acikgoz
Note: This article has been summarized from a Turkish blog:

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