Suicide plagues French farmers, study shows

Suicide is more prevalent among male farmers aged 45 and older. [Shutterstock]

French farmers are at higher risk of suicide than the rest of the population, a new study has found, describing falling incomes and increasing environmental regulation as risk factors.

The study was carried out by the French public health authority and researched data from 2007 to 2011.

The study follows the shocking finding that farmers have a 20% higher suicide rate than the average for the French population, as shown by a 2013 research. Put into perspective, between 2007 and 2009, a French farmer committed suicide every two days on average.

According to the new study, in 2009 farmers aged 55-64 had a suicide rate of 64, meaning 64 in 100,000 farmers committed suicide. By comparison, France’s overall male suicide rate is 19, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).

The suicide rate is higher among small-holders, individual farms and farmers whose sole income comes from farming. This was explained in terms of increased vulnerability to financial risks and greater social isolation.

Falling incomes

According to data from the French farmers’ mutual insurance association (MSA), 30% of their members earned less than €5,000 in the whole of 2015 (or €350/month) – compared to 18% in 2014. In June, they warned that “in 2016 the majority of farmers may earn less than €350 a month.”

Many have all their assets tied up in the land and farm, and the lack of interested buyers prevents them from retiring or getting access to cash.

In 2016, the MSA established a national prevention plan to avoid farmers’ suicides, which seeks to increase prevention and improve the understanding of the phenomenon.

Environmental regulation

“Modernisation, binding ecological regulations, bureaucratic burdens” were listed in the study as the possible reasons behind the higher suicide rates among farmers.

The agricultural policy at EU level seeks to incentivise farmers to deliver agricultural benefits, something that will be furthered in the coming Common Agricultural Policy post-2020.

Hogan says future CAP will be 'more ambitious' on the environment

Phil Hogan, the EU’s Agriculture Commissioner, announced that the next CAP will be “more ambitious” in terms of its environmental objectives, by ensuring farmers are on board in greening agriculture through broader use of precision farming techniques.

However, farmers complain that they bear the brunt of environmental policy costs without being properly consulted.

“Farmers are constantly painted as the culprit,  guilty of their agricultural practices, guilty for using a certain type of products, while they are the victims from many points of view,” Véronique Le Floc’h, secretary general at Coordination Rural, France’s second largest farmers’ union, told EURACTIV.com.

“Agriculture is subject to WTO regulations and global prices – and today we have low prices, no revenue, and the morale is low. On top of this, we have new decisions and regulation that can further impact farmers’ working conditions and their ability to produce,” she said.

Member states will vote on the renewal of glyphosate, a weed killer that has been listed as a possible carcinogenic in 2015 by the WHO. But the European food safety and chemical agencies judged it is safe and a vote is scheduled for 5 or 6 October, with a qualified majority required for a renewal.

But France has already announced it will vote against, angering its farmers who recently blockaded the Champs Elysees in Paris to protest the decision.

France's ecology minister meets angry farmers and promises 'shared solution'

French farmers have been protesting France’s proposed ban on glyphosate, Europe’s number one pesticide. Ecology Minister Nicolas Hulot tried to engage in dialogue with them to achieve a “shared solution”. EURACTIV’s partner Ouest-France reports.

“The ban on glyphosate will have a financial impact that has been assessed at between 1 and 2 billion euros, primarily on cereal farmers and wine growers. Today, given the lack of alternatives, it is clear that we must oppose this decision, knowing that in the current economic context, farmers don’t abuse [glyphosate]”, said Le Floc’h.