Is that a big number?

An article discussing India’s shrinking production of food per person was linked to in a blog I read today with the eye-catching extract that

[India] wastes…more fruits and vegetables than the UK consumes.

It sounds big at first, but considering the population of India is 20x that of the UK that’s only really saying they have a 5% rate of wastage, and that’s before you get into any adjustments for an Indian diet containing relatively higher amounts of fruit and vegetables.

Between 1997 and 2009, an estimated 200,000 Indian farmers committed suicide, buried under mountains of rising debt

Again, a big headline number, but once you start to divide out by the time period, and the 1.2bln population – a greater proportion of which would be farmers relative to Western countries – it no longer stands out. Let’s say 0.5% of the UK’s population are farmers*, and that India has only 10 times as many farmers (I’d guess that’s conservative). Converting the suicide rate into British terms, it would be the same as saying 1 in 5,000 British farmers commit suicide each year**. I suspect that is the national suicide rate, give or take.

There were some interesting observations in the article though.

The average farm in India is now smaller than five acres, 50 per cent less than in 1947

One reason being land is split into parcels and passed onto several sons in the next generation. With diseconomies of scale like this, the thrust of the article that India now produces less food per person than it did at independence is reasonable.


updates, now that I’m online:

*This source counts 300,000 farms in the UK, so I’m quite happy with my 0.5% estimate!

**wikipedia lists the UK and India as having broadly similar suicide rates of roughly 1 per 10,000.


2 Responses to Is that a big number?

  1. Joseph says:

    About 8,000 farmers commiting suicide in in India per yer over that period is a huge number if you consider that fact that they are predominantly farmers and don’t have the luxury of welfare that is found in England that is used for comparison. That number means there are about 3 times that number of children who are now orphans if not more.

  2. J Agnew says:

    This is where people are taking numbers out of context to make the problem far worse than they really are. It looks like the analysis that Marc has done is spot on. The reality is that suicide rate as a function of the total population is in line with the general suicide rate. 200k seems like a huge number, but in truth it is over a 12 year period and in a country with a population of 1.2billion. I think that if you looked at shoe salesmen, you would find a similar rate.

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