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High suicide rate highlights plight of French farmers

Photo: AFP

Male farmers in France are 20 percent more likely to take their own lives than the rest of the population, a new report says, with financial pressures as well as social isolation among the possible causes of the high suicide rate.


French farmers are far more likely to commit suicide than the general population, with those facing severe financial difficulties most at risk, a new study has revealed.

A total of 485 farmers killed themselves between 2007 and 2009, making suicide the third biggest cause of death among agricultural workers after cancer and cardiovascular disease, according to a report published by the French Institute for Public Health Surveillance (InVS) on Thursday.

The report found that male farmers, who make up the majority of the industry, were 20 percent more likely to take their own lives than the rest of the population.

Suicides were found to be most likely among cattle farmers and particularly those in the 55-to-64 age group, with a suicide rate 47 percent above the national average.

The report was commissioned by France’s Ministry of Agriculture in 2011 as part of a three-year plan to reduce suicide among farmers and following numerous international and domestic studies on the plight of agricultural workers.

Financial pressures

According to the InVS study, increasing financial pressure on farmers in recent years could be partly to blame.

“The excess of suicide mortalities … could be partly associated with the tough financial constraints, linked to the economic crisis, faced by the agricultural sector since 2007,” the authors commented.

They noted that the particularly high suicide rates among cattle dairy and meet farmers “coincide with the financial problems encountered by these sectors over the period of the study”.

France’s agriculture industry was one of the biggest casualties of the global economic crisis.

According to figures from France’s National Institute for Statistics and Economic Studies, revenue from farming fell by 23.6 percent between 2007 and 2008 and a further 35.3 percent between 2008 and 2009.

Livestock farmers have been particularly hard hit, prompting President François Hollande to announce earlier this month that France will shift almost one billion euros of mainly EU subsidies to the sector and away from the better-off crop growers.

France is the EU's top agricultural producer as well as the main beneficiary of EU farm aid.

Social isolation

However, Dominique Barrau, general secretary of France’s biggest farmers’ union, the FNSEA, said that along with growing financial pressures, the social isolation of farmers could also be to blame for the high suicide rate in the industry.

This can mean farmers often have no one with which to share the psychological burden of any problems they may face, he told French TV channel i>Tele.

“When difficulties emerge, when problems accumulate, do we have the habit of talking about it?” he asked.

The social isolation of farmers has long been a topic of discussion in France, particularly when it comes to the high rate of agriculture workers without spouses or partners.

A 2009 government report found that about 30 percent of male French farmers do not have a partner, with the rate rising among those in the 18-35 age group.

The problem has seen a number of dating websites aimed specifically at farmers, such as and, spring up in recent years.

Meanwhile, France’s Ministry of Agriculture hopes to soon launch a national helpline where agriculture workers can share problems and gain access to psychological support.

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