East and South Asia: Suicide By Pesticide Ingestion Common

As World Suicide Prevention Day approaches on September 10, a new study reaffirms that suicide is frequently committed by ingesting pesticides in many Asian countries. The study analyzed preferred suicide methods across the world to help policy makers devise the best strategies for suicide prevention.

On average, almost 3000 people commit suicide every day. Pesticide ingestion is one of the leading suicide methods. It's estimated that globally three million cases of pesticide poisoning occur every year, resulting in an excess of 250 000 deaths. Reports, including this new study, suggest that this problem is particularly significant in rural areas, especially in Asian countries, such as China, India, and Sri Lanka.

In India, much has been reported on the agricultural crisis, which is causing many farmers to take their own lives.

kerala8821 explains the farmers’ predicament in his blog:

“India has seen a lot of farmer suicides in recent years. We may be in the throes of an economic boom, but more than 25,000 farmers have killed themselves in India, mostly by consuming pesticide since the year 1997. Debt and the resulting harassment at the hands of money lenders is a major cause.

Farmers fell into debt because of a combination of high farming costs (exorbitantly priced hybrid (so-called high yielding) seeds) and pesticides sold by multinationals and a lack of a good price for their produce, partly due to imports. Drought added to their woes. Irrigation was too expensive for these farmers and the state government didn’t help.”

A post by Veena Seetharama Annadanaa says the number of suicides is actually higher:

“The rising costs of seeds, pesticides and fertilizers have pushed peasants into mounting debts, and led untold thousands of them to commit suicide by drinking the same pesticides that created their liabilities…

…By the government's own admission, over 100,000 farmers committed suicide in the last decade in the four states of western Maharashtra, central Madhya Pradesh and southern Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka.”

brianc79, posting on CaseIndiaTrips 2, speculates that many who attempt suicide don't even make it to the hospital.

“This morning on rounds, our last discussion was about methods of suicide attempts in India compared to the U.S. What rolls into our medical wards and ICUs are things like Tylenol, anti-depressants, and prescription medication. Here it tends to be more things in the community — pesticides, poisonous berries that are used as decorations, etc. Just imagining how many people attempt, but don’t make it to the hospital for care, or cannot afford care is just mind-boggling.”

Sarthak Gaurav, blogging on the India Development Blog, says that easy availability of these chemicals is partly to blame.

“In places like Vidarbha where we have the highest density of pesticide consumption in India, proximity to highly subsidized state provided pesticides are rampant and in such conditions there is bound to be higher incidence of suicides by pesticide consumption for the distressed farmers. In U.S it could well be thought of to be substituted by shot-guns!”

This photo captures the suicide problem among Indian farmers.

Pesticides are also contributing to suicides in China. One study reports that they account for over 60 percent of suicides in rural China, while another estimates that 175 000 deaths occur each year from pesticides, most in farming communities, in China alone.

A post on the Please Help Burma blog explains how China's suicide rates reveal a unique social pattern:

“China is the only country in which the suicide rate for females is higher than for males. Around 90 percent of Chinese women who end their own lives live in the countryside, where they have ready access to poisonous pesticides.”

Chinabounder, posting excerpts from his book, reveals that the most common causes of suicide in rural China are poverty and domestic abuse, which affect women more. He posts:

“Acknowledging this problem, Liu Denggao, a vice-director at the Ministry of Agriculture, said his ministry would restrict production of the most poisonous insecticides, change the color and smell of poisons, package chemicals in small amounts, and educate the public about appropriate uses and storage of pesticides.”

However, he adds:

“Lethal pesticides today are freely available off the shelf, are inappropriately stored in home environments, and this inexpensive answer to a moment’s anger or feeling of depression too readily is the answer taken.”

In response to its high suicide rate, South Korea will be announcing preventative measures, some which are related to pesticides. In 2005 South Korea's suicide rate was the highest among the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development countries.

honeydhynnes discusses some of the reason's for South Korea's high suicide rate.

“Jumping under subway trains and taking pesticides are some of the things, to name a few, of killing themselves…

…Suicide as per my research is the fourth cause of death in South Korea. It is a reflection of changing and conflicting gender roles, economic hardships and domestic violence. However, this plays down the role of mental illness and other social conditions that significantly contribute to the statistic.”

Alex Schadenberg outlines the new measures in his blog.

“The government has decided to activate measures in 10 different government departments to lower their suicide rate. The complete plan will be released next week.

Actions will include:
– building screen doors on platform stops at train stations.
– tighter regulations on the sale of pesticides and other poisons.
– welfare payments will be improved.
– internet sites that encourage suicide will be blocked.”

Simon Hatcher, blogging on Pacific Thoughts, points out, though, that some essential measures are still missing.

“Curiously no mention at all of the role of mental health services or primary care in suicide prevention. The strategy will be announced on world suicide day on September 10th – hope they’ve looked at the ways other countries are doing it.”

Photo of Danger, Pesticides by colinbrown on Flickr.


  • ibrahim

    this is sadly informative. never heard people takeeir own lives, so damn easy. theffact which is acutely important (i am not a professional sociologist of any sort, just the layman commentator) is that you mentioned INDIA, CHINA,AND SRILANKA. These are places where the various religions don’t necessarily conform with the normal practices of good and evil. it is much more about esoteric shenanigans and so on. e.g nirvana – remember the saint GHANDI – the racist, perveted saint.In any case, these facts may not necessarily be new. It’s probably very historical. We don’t see christian and muslims doing all this. (well not for poverty and the like.) it stinks of lack of belief in the hereafter.

  • A quick note: This phenomenon isn’t isolated to Asia. The new study also found that suicide by pesticide ingestion is a major problem in rural Latin American countries (such as El Salvador, Nicaragua and Peru) and also in Portugal. Other studies have shown it is also happening in Brazil, Southern Trinidad, Suriname, Zimbabwe, and Malawi, to name a few. However, the most comprehensive data currently available on this issue is from Asia.

  • Chari Ratwatte

    I fail to see what relevance “ibrahim’s” comment has to the substance of this issue. How exactly does the moderation on this site work? Particularly with “Comments containing hate speech, obscenity, and personal attacks,” to quote the text below where I am typing right now?

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