The Price of Childhoodon the link between prices paid to farmers and the use of child labour in cottonseed production in Andhra Pradesh, India
The principal aim of the present study is to examine whether or not the procurement price policy of the seed companies has any relationship with the widespread use of child labour in hybrid cottonseed production in Andhra Pradesh. The issue has acquired particular significance in the context of recent debate on this issue where contrasting views are expressed by the seed industry on the one hand, and child rights advocacy/campaign groups and farmers’ organisations on the other.|
The issue of child labour in hybrid cottonseed production in the state of Andhra Pradesh, India has recently received attention from national and international media, government, Non Governmental Organisations (NGOs), social investor groups, international agencies like ILO/IPEC, UNICEF and UNDP and the seed industry. The uniqueness of the child labour problem in hybrid cottonseed production is that the majority of workers in this sector are children, particularly girls. No other industry in India has such a high proportion of child labour in its workforce. The exploitation of child labour in this industry is linked to larger market forces. Children are employed on a long-term contract basis through advances and loans extended to their parents by local seed farmers. These farmers, in turn, have agreements with seed companies (local, national and trans-national) who produce and market hybrid cotton seeds.
Farmers employ children, particularly girls, primarily in order to minimize costs. Earlier studies by these authors1 which examined reasons for child labour in this industry found that labour costs account for about 50% of total cultivation costs. Farmers endeavour to cut these labour costs by hiring children because the wages paid to children are far below both the market wages for adults in other agricultural field work and even further below official minimum wages. Farmers also hire children in preference to adults because farmers can squeeze out higher productivity from children per day: children will work longer hours, will work much more intensively and they are generally much easier to control than adult workers – whether through verbal or physical abuse or through inexpensive treats like chocolate or hair ribbons. Moreover, children cannot complain as effectively as adults do when they are exposed to poisonous pesticides, which are used in very high quantities in cottonseed cultivation. Moreover, children work in the context of partial adult unemployment – children work whilst their parents cannot2.
Hybrid cottonseed production in India is largely concentrated in two states, namely, Andhra Pradesh in South India and Gujarat, a state in the central part of India. These two states account for nearly 75% of total cottonseed production in the country. Until recently AP used to be the largest producer of cottonseed but now Gujarat has overtaken this position. Yet all the important companies involved in cottonseed business in India have their production and marketing base in Andhra Pradesh. Cottonseed production is carried out through contract farming. Companies depend upon local farmers for seed production. They arrange seed buy back arrangements with local farmers through middlemen called 'seed organizers'. Seed organizers thus mediate between companies and farmers. Although seed companies are not directly involved in the production process, they exert substantial control over farmers and the production process by supplying foundation seed, advancing production capital, fixing the procurement prices and through stipulating quality controls.
Currently there are about 100 seed companies including MNCs involved in the cottonseed business in Andhra Pradesh. Whilst nearly 77% of the cottonseed production area in Andhra Pradesh is controlled by the organized sector, the remaining 23% production area is controlled by what is labeled the unorganized sector - those individuals and small firms who do not have legal registration and recognition3. During last three years the area covered by the unorganized sector has grown because of the increasing area under illegal production of BT cottonseed in A.P. Since 2002, with the introduction of Monsanto BT cotton, several unorganized sector players have been encouraged to enter into the illegal production of BT cottonseeds because of the huge profits made through the illegal production of BT seeds.
Thanks to the efforts of local and international NGOs, the government, international bodies like ILO, UNICEF, UNDP, media and social investors, a great deal of awareness has been created about the problem of child labour in this industry. This raised awareness has put the seed industry under pressure to pay serious attention to this problem. As a result, several national and multi-national companies have begun to initiate steps to address this issue. In September 2003, the Association of Seed Industry (National Association of the Planting Seed Industry in India) decided to take concerted action to eliminate child labour in the cottonseed industry in India through collaboration with the MV Foundation, a leading child rights organisation in India. Since then, the ASI tried to motivate seed organizers and farmers to stop the employment of children through meetings, posters, pamphlets, print and electronic media. In a separate move, with the support from ILO/IPEC, the Seedsman Association of Andhra Pradesh (a state level association of seed companies) initiated some awareness programmes to its members to address the problem.
Barring the recent initiatives of few member companies of ASI (Proagro, Syngenta and Emergent Genetics) the efforts of seed companies to reduce the employment of children in cottonseed production thus far have been largely confined to farmers’ awareness and motivation activities4. And none of them have addressed the crucial issue of 'procurement price'. Yet the two reports published by the India Committee of the Netherlands (ICN) in 2003 and 20045 reveal a clear link between procurement pricing and employment of child labour in cottonseed production. Based an analysis of data from small sample survey on cost of cultivation, procurement prices and wages structure in cottonseed production, these studies concluded that low procurement prices paid by the companies is one of the contributing factors to the extensive use of child labour in cottonseed production. To quote from the 2004 ICN report:
czIndia Committee of the Netherlands / Landelijke India Werkgroep - October 25, 2005