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Suicide Is Rampant Among French Farmers

Suicide is only the tip of the iceberg for French farmers and a symptom of a much larger problem, namely depressed wages and lowering prices.

Life on the French countryside is not as idyllic as one would imagine.

According to official estimates, the annual suicide rate among French farmers is in the ballpark of 200—mostly by hanging—a number that was considered "shocking" when it was released in 2013. This sad statistic provides a rare glimpse into the extent to which mounting economic pressures are being felt by those in France's agricultural industry.

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But according to former farmer and researcher Jacques Jeffredo, as well as numerous agricultural associations in France, the actual number of annual suicides among farmers may actually be closer to 600. Jeffredo, who erected 600 military-style crosses in honour of the fallen farmers last October, made the statement in a recent interview with French news outlet BFM TV.

"Numerous anonymous people, who died giving their lives for others, to feed us, to feed the population. They died for that," he said, explaining the symbolism of the 600 crosses. "As long as we see it as an illness, there is a sense of shame and as a result we don't talk about it. There is no reason for this to be happening."

BFM TV also spoke with a 35-year-old farmer named Louis Ganay who struggled with his own bouts of suicidal ideation because of the immense physical and financial stresses associated with his job, and with losing 15 of his cows in one year.

READ: Farmers Are Trying to Protect France's Food by Blocking the Borders

"Getting up early every day, knowing that in a month you'll only be able to make 200 euros or 300 euros with 80 hours of work each week, it's real torture," Ganay told BFM TV. "The physical fatigue, the psychological pressure, the bank that wants to give up on you, the death of the cows… I had no reason to live anymore."

France's suicide rate is significantly above the European average, with 16.7 suicides per 100,000 inhabitants (as compared with a mean of 11.7 per 100,000 across the 28 EU nations). But suicide is only the tip of the iceberg for French farmers and symptomatic of a much larger problem: namely, depressed wages and ever-lowering prices for agricultural products.

In classic French fashion, farmers have been resorting to protests that border on performance art, such as burning an effigy of a French ecology minister, blocking tourist destinations, dumping 160,000 pounds of fruits and vegetables on Paris' Place de la République, and using tractors to spray manure onto government buildings in numerous cities.