Child Labour in Hybrid Cottonseed Production in Gujarat and Karnataka


Child and migrant labourers in cottonseed farms in Gujarat

Growth of cottonseed production area

Cotton is a major commercial crop in Gujarat. Among cotton growing states in India Gujarat ranks second place. Of the total 8.7 million hectares of cotton area in the country during 2002-03, Gujarat accounted for nearly 1.5 million hectares (17%) out of which nearly 70% of the area is covered under different varieties of hybrid seed3.

Gujarat has the distinction of producing the world first hybrid cottonseed `H4` for commercial production in 1970 and since then it has been one of the important states inthe production and marketing of hybrid cotton seeds in India. Since 2000, Gujarat has witnessed a significant rise in cottonseed production area and has become the number one producing state in India of cotton seed. Table 1 presents recent trends in cottonseed production in Gujarat, indicating a significant rise in the total area under cottonseed production in the state from 1999 to 2004 from nearly 18,000 in 1999-2000 to 26,000 in 2003-04.

Cotton hybrids are of two types - public and private. Public hybrids are developed by state controlled agencies (i.e., Agricultural Universities, research centres). Private hybrids (also called research or proprietary hybrids) are developed by private seed companies through their own research. State Seed Corporations produce and market only public hybrids. The hybrids developed by public sector agencies are registered and notified to enable certification by State Seed Certification Agencies. Private seed companies produce and market both public bred hybrids as well as hybrids developed by them. The foundation seeds of public hybrids are made available by the government for any one (both public and private seed companies) who wants to multiply them and market to the farmers. In contrast, the private or research hybrids are developed by private companies themselves and they have patent rights over production and marketing of that seed. Since 1999, there has been a decline in the area under public hybrids and a significant increase in area under private hybrids. The total area under public hybrids decreased from 13,960 acres in 1999-2000 to 6,175 acres in 2003-04. During the same period, the area under private hybrids (also called proprietary or research hybrids) increased from 4000 to 20,000 acres.

Table 1: Recent trends in area under hybrid cottonseed production in Gujarat
Area under public hybrids (acres)
Area under private hybrids (acres)
Total (public and private hybrids) area (acres)
Source: The data on public hybrids is taken from annual reports of 1999-2000 and 2003-04 of Gujarat State Seed Certification Agency which certifies public hybrids. No official data is available on area under private hybrids. the estimates of area under private hybrids is based on the authors interviews with representatives of various seed companies

Illegal production of BT hybrid cottonseeds

One of the main reasons for the recent growth in area under cottonseed production in Gujarat is due to illegal production of genetically modified hybrid cottonseeds (BT cotton). BT stands for bacillus thuringiensis, a bacterium whose gene is injected into cotton seeds to give them resistance against boll worms. Indian government gave permission to Mahyco-Monsanto Biotech (MMB), a 50: 50 joint venture company formed by Monsanto and Mahyco to conduct field trails of BT cotton hybrids in 1998, which was approved for commercial marketing in April 2002. Before the government of India approved the commercial release of BT cotton hybrids, a private seed company based in Gujarat developed local BT cotton hybrids through back crossing the BT gene with local hybrids and unofficially started marketing the seeds. Since the BT cotton hybrids of MMB were costly (Rs 1600 per packet of 450 grams) the illegal local BT cotton hybrids became popular in the market. This encouraged many small companies, including some individual farmers to enter into production of illegal BT cotton hybrid seeds, which led to a significant increase since 2001.

Cost of production and procurement prices

Compared to Andhra Pradesh, the per acre cost of production is low in Gujarat. One of the important reasons for the low production cost is the shorter duration of cross pollination period. Unlike in Andhra Pradesh where cross pollination work ( which alone accounts for nearly 45% of total production cost) is carried over 100-120 days, in Gujarat it is restricted to 50-80 days. This has implication on farmers wage bill. It also has a bearing on crop yields; compared to Andhra Pradesh, the average per acre yields are lower in Gujarat (220 Kg in AP and 150 Kg in Gujarat). The procurement prices paid by the seed companies to the farmers is about 10% lower in Gujarat.

Relocation of production base from Andhra Pradesh to Gujarat

The recent growth of area under cottonseed in Gujarat is also due to decisions taken by a few important companies4 to slowly relocate their production base from Andhra Pradesh to Gujarat. This is partly due to growing media attention and campaign against child labour initiated by NGOs, government and international agencies in Andhra Pradesh. As a result, seed companies were under intense pressure to address the problem of child labour in their production farms. Since Gujarat has not received similar attention, some seed companies have relocated there to avoid public criticism. Compared to Andhra Pradesh, the production cost for the companies is slightly lower in Gujarat, which is also another factor encouraging companies to shift their production base to the state.

Concentration of seed production in Northern districts

Although the commercial cotton cultivation is spread all across Gujarat, hybrid cottonseed production is concentrated in northern part of Gujarat in four districts namely Sabarkantha, Banaskantha, Mehasan and Gandhinagar. These four districts together account for nearly 90% of the total area under cottonseed production in Gujarat5.

Buy back arrangements between companies and farmers

Seed companies are dependent upon local farmers for multiplication of seeds. In order to supply large quantities of seed to the market, companies need to multiply relatively small quantity of foundation seed either developed by them (proprietary or research hybrids) or sourced from public institutions (public hybrids). Multiplication of seed is done by seed farmers in their fields. Indian Land Ceiling Legislation prohibits individuals or companies from owning large areas of land. Hence, companies are forced to depend upon local seed farmers for the multiplication of seeds.

Most companies do not make direct agreements with the seed farmers. Rather, they operate through intermediaries known as `seed organizers'. The seed organiser is a middle person who mediates between the company and the seed farmers to organise seed production. Companies make production agreements with `seed organisers` with buy back arrangements of the resultant seed, and the seed organisers in turn make similar agreements with seed farmers.

Although companies are not directly involved in the production process and do not directly deal with the farmers, they exert substantial control over farmers and the production process through fixing of the procurement price (price paid to farmers), advancing the capital, extending technical advice, and stipulating quality controls. The company sets the norms and procedures to be followed by the farmers while cultivating seeds in the fields. Company representatives with the help of the seed organisers also make frequent visits to the farmers' fields to check whether they are following the norms prescribed by the company. They also offer technical advice to farmers regarding the use of fertilizers and pesticides, and precautions to take while conducting cross-pollination work.

Private seed companies play a dominant role in production and marketing of hybrid cottonseeds in Gujarat; they control nearly 95% of the market share in the state. All the large seed companies have their production base in Gujarat, such as Mahyco-monsanto, Nuziveedu, Emergent Genetics, Syngenta, Ankur, Navabharat, Vibha, Nath and Vikram. Proagro and Advanta, important players in Andhra Pradesh, do not have any cottonseed production programme in Gujarat. The multinational seed companies Syngenta, Emergent Genetics and Mahyco-Monsanto account for nearly 15% of the area under cottonseed production in the state.


The production of hybrid cottonseed is labour intensive, complex and time-dependent. Hybrid seed production in a self-pollinated crop like cotton is a difficult task, especially when large quantity has to be produced for commercial production. Unlike other hybrid seeds such as paddy and jowar, cross-pollination work in cottonseed has to be done manually. Each individual flower bud has to be emasculated and pollinated by hand requiring a large labour force. Crossing is done by placing pollen grains from one genotype of the male parent on to the stigma of flowers of the other genotype, the female parent. The removal of stamens or anthers or the killing of pollen grains of a flower without affecting the female reproductive organs is known as emasculation. The purpose of emasculation is to prevent self-fertilization in the flowers of female parent.

In hybrid cottonseed production, cross-pollination is a vital task. This activity alone requires about 90% of the total labour days. Cross pollination activity begins after 50 days of sowing the seeds and this work has to be carried out regularly. Unlike in Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka where the duration of cross pollination activity is extended up to 100 to 120 days, in Gujarat, cross pollination activity is limited to 50-80days. Hybrid cottonseed cultivation generally starts during the month of June. Cross pollination starts in August and continues through middle of October. Depending on the season 6 to 12 labourers are required per day to do cross pollination activity. The labour requirement is less in the beginning and end of the cross pollination season.

The observations presented in this section are based on a detailed study of 20 cottonseed farms in ten villages in two districts namely Sabarkantha and Mehasan. The names of the villages are Sayajinagar, Asoda , Undani, Vadnagar Ukhal (in Vijapur taluk, Mehasan district) Narsipura, Surpur, Patanpur, Villar, Khedbrahma (in Idar and Khedbrahma taluks in Sabarkantha district.

Workforce composition (dependence on migrant labour)

Most of the farmers involved in cottonseed production in the study are relatively rich (belonging to upper castes like patel, desai and rajput) and depend mostly upon hired labour. Family labour involvement is less than 10%.

Table 2 presents details of workforce composition in 20 sample cottonseed farms selected for this study in Sabarkantha and Mehasan districts. Of the total 384 workers 332 of them (86.5%) are hired labourers and 52 are family labourers. Among hired labourers 274 (82.5%) are migrant labourers. Migrants labourers come from southern part of Rajastan (Dungapur, Udaypur and Khervad) and tribal pockets of Gujarat (Panchamahal, Sabarkantha and Santrapur). More than 50% of the migrant labourers are from Rajasthan. Udaypaur and Dungapur districts in Rajasthan from where most of the labour comes to Gujarat for cottonseed work are perennially drought prone areas and known for large-scale migration of laborers in search of wage work.

Table 2: Workforce composition in cottonseed farms in Gujarat (2003-04)
Total number of farms surveyed (area in acres)
20 (36 acres)
Total number of workers engaged during cross pollination activity
Type of labour
  Hired labour

52 (13.5%)
332 (86.5%)
Type of hired labour

274 (82.5%)
58 (17.5%)
Age group
  Children (8-14 years)
&nbs; Young workers (15-18 years)
  Adults (above 18 years)

Age and gender divisions

Over two thirds of labour force in cottonseed production are in the age group of 8 to 18 years. Women account for nearly 59% of the total labour force. The proportion children to the total work force in Gujarat is less than in Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka. Children below 14 years age group account for 34.9% of the total labour force. Girl children outnumber boys and the majority of the labourers belong to the tribal population.


Advance payments and agreements

Hybrid cottonseed production requires an assured supply of labour to carry out various activities, particularly, cross- pollination work. Keeping this in view, seed farmers prefer to have advance agreements with labourers before starting the seed cultivation, where upon they depend on `labour contractors/organisers`. Labour contractors are responsible for recruiting mostly migrant workers, which accounts for nearly 70% of the total labour force. Most of the labour contractors were once workers themselves, belonging to the same community of the migrants from where they recruit. Before the season starts, seed farmers approach labour contractors, place their demand for labourers, and pay some advance money The advance money includes travel costs of the labourers from their home to work and some advance equivalent to one or two weeks worth of wage payment. The per day wage rates are fixed in advance and the agreement lasts for one crop season.

It is the responsibility of the labour contractor to identify the required number of labourers and see to it that they continuously work for the farmer for the entire agreement period. Each contractor mobilises around 20 to 100 labourers and place them with different farmers. Farmers do not make any individual agreements with the labourers and, instead they only interact with labour contractors, who in turn make agreements on behalf of the labourers. Payments are made twice or thrice during the agreement period. Substantial wage amount are withheld until the completion of the agreement period.
The labour contractor receives commission from the farmers for arranging the labourers. In addition, the contractor also deducts 10-15% of the wage payment from each labourer as his commission charge.

Ramesh Chandra : case study of a labour contractor
(Phlasia village, Udaipur district, Rajasthan state)

Ramesh Chandra (36 years) is a labour contractor. He belongs to a Scheduled Tribe community from a small village called Phalasia in Udayapur district in Rajastan. He has been working as a labour contractor since 1998. Prior to this he worked as a migrant labourer in cottonseed production for about five years. He mobilizes around 30-50 labourers every year from his native and neighbouring villages and sends these labourers to do cross pollination activity in Vijapur taluk in Mehasan district of Gujarat. During 2003-04 crop season, he organized 35 labourers for two cottonseed farmers in Asoda village in Vijapur taluk in Mahesan district. He has been arranging labourers for these farmers since 2001. Before the beginning of the season in the month of May 2003, cottonseed farmers approached him and paid an advance of Rs 15000 with an agreement that the latter will organise 40 labourers to them. They also agreed to pay a commission of Rs 100 to him on each labourer. Though he contacted 45 labourers, he could only mobilize 35 of them. These 35 members belonged to 12 families. Most of these families are from his native village and some of them are close relatives. He paid an advance of Rs 800 to Rs. 1000 to these 12 families. He arranged a private vehicle for transportation of these workers to Mehasan district. He also accompanied these workers. The workers were given accommodation in temporary shelters built in the farms of cottonseed farmers.

During cross pollination work, Ramesh Chandra stayed with these workers and supervised their work. He collected the payment from the farmers and settled the amounts to workers. The daily wage rate agreed by the farmers for each worker was Rs 35. Out of this only Rs 30 was paid to labourers. The remaining Rs 5 was deducted by Ramesh Chardra as his commission for arranging the work and settling the payments with farmers. During 2003-04, Ramesh Charda earn nearly Rs 12000 (Rs 3500 commission from farmer plus Rs 8500 commission from labourers) as his commission charges for arranging 35 labourers.

Wage rates and working hours

The wage rates are fixed for the whole season at the time of the agreement itself. During 2003-04, the daily wage rates paid to labourers in cottonseed farms varied between Rs 25 and Rs 40. In Idar taluk Sabarkantha district where cottonseed production is highly concentrated, the wage rates are relatively high compared to other areas. Considering the long hours of work put in by workers in cottonseed farms the wage rates paid to them are low compared wage rates in the local market. Except in few area such as Khedbrahma andSabarkantha district where children below 11 years are paid Rs 5 to Rs 10 less than adult wages, the wage rates are equal irrespective of their age and gender. During 2003-04, in Idar taluk, sabarkantha district the daily wage rates for cottonseed workers varied between Rs 35 to Rs 40, and in Vijapur taluk, Mahasan district daily wage rates varied between Rs 30 to Rs 35 These were the actual amounts farmers paid to labour contractors. Labour contractors deducted Rs 5 per day on each labourer and pay the remaining amount to them.

The agreement regarding working hours is vague and the cottonseed farmers are at their liberty to call upon the labourers to work without a schedule or set hours. . Since labourers live on the owners' farms, they are at the discretion of the farmers whenever their labour was needed. Labourers generally work for 13-14 hours a day with two-hours break for meals. They begin work around 5 AM and end at 6 PM or 7PM. A lunch break of one to two hours (only one hour during peak season) is provided between 12 PM to 2 PM. During this time labourers have to cook their own food and eat.
It is the responsibility of farmers to provide accommodation to labourers. However, in most places no proper accommodation is provided. Farmers keep labourers on the farms in small farmhouses built for storing irrigation pumpsets and farm implements. Sometimes, the laborers are kept in temporary huts/sheds constructed for them. Most farmers also have servants of their own to look after the farm activities. These servants also stay on farms along with the migrant labourers and constantly supervise the work of these labourers. In addition to accommodation, some farmers also provide limited quantity of cooking oil and vegetables for the labourers. No payment is made for non working days and holiday time is not given.

Nanalal and his family : Case study of a migrant labour family
(Amila village, Udaipur district, Rajasthan state)

Nanalal, a 30 years old labourer, belongs to a poor landless tribal familiy in Amlia village in Udaypur district in Rajastan. He has a wife, one son (12 years) and one daughter (10 years). His son studied up to second class and his education was discontinued. His daughter has never been to school. His family does not own any land and depend completely upon wage labour. He and his wife have been working as labourers in cottonseed fields in Gujarat. During cross pollination activity on cottonseed farms they migrate to Gujarat and spend about two to three months there as migrant labourers. During the last two years he has also taken his two children along with him to work on the cottonseed farms. His family works under a labour contractor who also belongs to his village. Labour contractor arranges work for his family and deducts 10 to 15% of wage amount they receive from the farmers as commission charges.

During 2003-04, a labour contractor paid Rs 1000 in advance to his family before beginning of the season with the agreement that his family should work in a cottonseed farm in Khedbrahma taluk in Sabarkantha district, Gujarat. . The owner is a big farmer with four acres of cottonseed farm. . He employed a total of 40 labourers, all migrants from Udaipur district, Rajastan, out of which 30 were accommodated in a small farm house on the farm. The remaining 10 lived in a small tent temporarily built for accommodating labourers under a tree on the farm. Out of the 40 labourers, 12 were children below 14 years. Most of the children had come along with their families.

Nanlal's family worked 74 days continuously on this farm. Nanlal and his wife was paid a daily wage rate of Rs 35 and his children were paid at the rate of Rs. 25. The labour contractor collected the entire amount from the farmer and after deducting Rs 5 per person per day towards his commission charges settled the remaining amount to him. His family after deducting the labour contractor's commission charges earned about Rs 7000 during 2003-04.

From dawn to dusk : Daily work schedule of a migrant child labourer

Kamala, a 13 year old girl, started working as a wage labourer in cottonseed farms since 2002. She belongs to a poor tribal family in a small village called Amlia in Udaipur district, Rajastan. Her father has died and she lives with her mother and younger sister. Her family owns two acres of dry land but income from the land is insufficient and they primarily depend on wage labour. She studied up to fourth class and discontinued in 2002. In 2002, her mother took an advance of Rs 500 from a labour contractor and sent Kamala to Gujarat to work in cottonseed farms. Since then she has been migrating to Gujarat for cottonseed every year. Several labourers from Kamala`s village also migrant every year to Gujarat for about two to three months (during August and October months) to do crosspollination activity in cottonseed farms.

The researcher met the Kamala in the month of September while she was doing cross pollination activity in a cottonseed farm in Narsipura village, Idar taluk, Sabarkantha district, Gujarat. He spent one complete day in the farm observing Kamal and other labourers' activities. Kamala was entrusted with the task of cross pollination activity. The activity has two major components- emasculation and pollination (In plants, crossing is done by placing pollen grains from one genotype - the male parent on to the stigma of flowers of the other genotype, the female parent. The removal of stamens or anthers or the killing of pollen grains of a flower without affecting in any way the female reproductive organs is known as emasculation). The daily work schedule of Kamala is as follows.

She wakes up at 4 AM to get ready by 5 AM to start work in the fields. She lives in her employer's farm house along with 18 other migrant workers. From 5 AM to 7.30 AM she works in the field removing type flowers in female lines which were not emasculated in the previous day and collecting flowers from male plants for pollination. From 7.30 to 8.30 AM, one hour break is given to cook food and have morning meal. From 8.30 to 12.30 AM, she is engaged in pollination activity. From 12.30 PM to 2 PM, lunch break was given. During this time she returns from the field, eats lunch and rests. From 2 PM to 7 PM, she is engaged in emasculation work. She returns from the field around 7 PM. She rests about half an hour afterwhich, she prepares her dinner. After her meal she spends about half an hour chatting with other workers and goes to sleep around 9 PM.

Kamala gets Rs 35 per day for her work. Her employer does not pay directly to her. Instead, the labour contractor who arranged work for Kamala takes the amount from her employer and deducts Rs 5 towards his commission charges and pay the remaining amount to her mother at the end of the season. If Kamala wants some money for her needs at the work place she takes asks the labour contractor.

Magnitude of the child labour problem

The estimates of child labourers are calculated on the basis of total area under cotton seed production, per acre average requirement of labour and proportion of child labour to total work force. (this was already mentioned above). Based on the detailed field observations, the present study estimates the average requirement of labourers for carrying production in one acre as 11 (10 for doing cross-pollination work and one for all other activities) the proportion of children to total work force as 31.8% and girls proportion to total child labour force also as 60%. An average 3.5 children are employed in one acre cottonseed farm. During 2003-04 crop season the total estimated area under cottonseed production was 26,000 acres.
Based on the above mentioned assumptions, the total number of labourers employed in cottonseed farms in Gujarat for 2003-04 is estimated at 286,000 out of which 91,000 are children in the age group of 8 to 14 years.


India Committee of the Netherlands / Landelijke India Werkgroep - October 4, 2004