After a period of prolonged drought and then fungus-causing rains at harvest time, Kenya's suicide rate has skyrocketed, particularly among farmers. Up to 2,000 suicides are reported in Kenya's eastern province, up dramatically from the usual 300 per year, according to AlertNet.
Many of these farmers used their land as collateral to gain millions of dollars in farm loans, and feared they would lose everything as crops failed in the unusual weather. Since 2008, Equity Bank has awarded $50 million to 15,000 farmers in Kenya through the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA).
Growth of fungus on wet grain has produced deadly aflatoxins, which cause severe liver damage and cancer, making it unsafe to sell. But that's just the beginning of the problem — not only is income from the previous year's efforts lost, but the soil is affected by the toxins, making future cultivation more difficult.
A psychologist who practices in the region reports on the level of desperation among farmers who have been affected by climate conditions.
"I am receiving an average of more than 13 farmers who come for counseling at my office each weekday,” John Mukele told AlertNet. “Many have even become alcoholics and deserted their families as a result of frustrations.”
Some murder-suicides have been reported as farmers fear leaving their families behind to live in misery. Morgues are overflowing, and many more people who have attempted suicide have been turned away from packed hospitals.
“Other farmers have attempted suicide and they have found themselves in the wrong arm of the law since suicide remains illegal here in Kenya," said Mukele.
Officials at Equity Bank say that although they are working with AGRA on a solution, some repossessions are inevitable as farmers default on their loans en masse.
A variety of factors including climate change, unethical seed-selling practices and corruption in the distribution of relief food have been blamed for the crisis.
"Climate change continues to affect food production in Kenya and it is here to stay,” said Jimnah Mbaru, chairman of the National Cereals and Produce Board.