Seeds of Bondage: Female Child Bonded Labour in Hybrid Cottonseed Production in Andhra Pradesh


Hybrid Cottonseed Production:
Labour and Capital Intensive

Hybrid seeds are produced through cross-pollination of two different varieties. Seeds produced in this way will have 'hybrid vigour', which helps to increase both the quantity and quality of the yield. Hybrid seeds can be used for only one crop whereas ordinary seeds can be used for any number of crops.

Method of hybridisation

The production ofhybrid cottonseed is complex and expensive. Unlike in other hybrid seeds like paddy and jowar, in cottonseed cross-pollination work has to be done manually. Each individual flower bud has to be emasculated and pollinated by hand by a large labour force.

The seed production technique consists of growing the female and male parents in separate plots in the proportion of 5:1. The sowing periods are so adjusted that there is a synchronisation of the flowering phases in both parents and an adequate supply of male flowers is maintained. Doak's method of emasculation of the flower bud is used. This method involves in the removal of bracts first by hand, and then the petals, along with the entire anther-sac whorl, with the nail of the thumb, without damaging the stigma, style or ovary.

Two to two and a half months after sowing the seed, the plant starts to blossom. Subsequently the flowers keep blooming for six to seven months. Mean while, the crossing should be done as and when the flowers blossom (the same day or the very next day). Before the female flowers result into fruits, crossing should be done with the male flowers. Otherwise the female flowers turn into fruits and thereby produce only ordinary seeds.

The hybridisation consists of two major steps. Emasculation and pollination. The buds, which are expected to open up in the next morning, should be selected for emasculation, and latter is undertaken in the afternoon from 3-5 p.m. It is crucial for the success of the process that these buds should be gently removed without injuring the gynoecium. The emasculated flower should be carefully covered with red tissue paper bags. The pollination has to be carried out in the morning hours with the pollen of male parent's flowers.

From sowing to harvesting

Generally, hybrid cottonseed cultivation starts in the month of May or June. From then on, the work regarding this crop keeps continuing till January/February of the subsequent year (Table 2). In the month of May
Table 2: Crop calendar for different activities in cottonseed cultivation
Different activitiesTime
Ploughing, SowingMay-June
Emasculation and pollinationJuly-January
Spraying pesticidesAugust-December
Harvesting cotton kapasNovember-February
or June, they start ploughing the land, sowing seeds and applying the fertilisers. Depending upon the necessity, they have to pull out the weeds 4-5 times during August and October. The work of emasculation and pollination starts from July. This work has to be done everyday regularly till the month of January. The task of spraying the pesticides would be from August to December for protecting the crop from pests. The pesticides are sprayed once in a week or 10 days depending on the necessity. Harvesting of cotton starts from November, which continues till February.

Requirement of labour days

Hybrid cottonseed production is a highly labour intensive activity. It requires about 10 times more labour days than ordinary commercial cotton production and indeed ordinary cotton cultivation is labour intensive than any other crop. Per acre cultivation of hybrid cottonseed requires about 2216 labour days (Table 3). If we examine the labour days required for each work, 90% of the total labour days are required for the work of emasculation and pollination alone. Other important operations like harvesting requires about 100 days (4.5%), spraying pesticides 25 days (1.1%), and weeding 25 days (1.1%).
Table 3: Gender division of labour and requirement of labour days for different activities (per acre)
Gender Division
No. of Labour Days (Approx.)
Adult females and girls
Fertiliser application
Only adult male
Adult females and girls
Pesticide application
Only adult male
Emasculation and pollination
Mostly girls (about 90%)
Harvesting kapas
Mostly girls
Other activities
(irrigation, cutting cotton plants after harvest, transportation of yield, etc)
Only adult males

Note: In most of the places in Rangareddy and Mahaboobnagar districts, the female children are exclusively employed for cross-pollination work. In same places like Sanjamala, Koilakuntla in Kurnool and Gadval in Mahaboobnagar districts where seed production is highly concentrated boys and adult females are also employed for this work in a limited number. Even in these areas also about 85% of the labour employed for cross-pollination work are female children only.

Gender division of labour

The division of labour in different activities clearly indicates that to a large extent the cottonseed cultivation is totally dependent on the labour of female children. Female children are mostly employed in two important major works (cross-pollination and harvesting) which require nearly 95% of the total labour days (Table 3). In most of the areas female children are exclusively employed for cross-pollination work. Major part of the cotton harvesting work is also carried out by female children. In addition to these two important activities, female children also take part in sowing and weeding operations. However, women are mostly employed in sowing and weeding activities whereas men are exclusively for ploughing, applying fertilisers and pesticide spraying.

Note: These estimates are for 1996-97 crop year. The costs for supervision of activities by the employers and interest on the capital are not included.
Source: Davuluri Venkateswarlu and Lucia da Corta, 2001.
Table 4: Approximate Costs of Hybrid Cotton Seed Cultivation Per Acre
Total Cost (Rupees)
Percent of total costs
 Land lease
 Plastic covers
 Registration and certification fee
 (paid to seed certification agency)
Sub-Total - Non-labour Costs
 Spraying fertilisers and pesticides
 Other Costs
Sub-Total - Labour Costs







Cost of production

Hybrid cottonseed cultivation is highly capital intensive - requiring about four and a half times more capital than ordinary commercial cotton cultivation (50,000 rupees versus 12,000 fot ordinary cotton); indeed ordinary cotton cultivation is itself more expensive than other commercial crop such as tobacco, groundnut and sunflower.

Nearly 52% (Rs. 23,000) of the total cost goes towards the cost of human labour only. The major part of the expenditure (93%) on human labour goes in the form of wages to girls who do the work of cross-pollination and harvesting. The expenditure on fertilisers and pesticides (28%) is also significant (see table 4).

Yield - profit and losses

The output varies from one variety of seed to another. It also varies from one area to another depending upon the quality of land. In the year 1998-99, 'Savitha', a popular hybrid variety of seed gave an average yield of 600 Kgs. of cotton per acre. Every 100 Kgs. of cotton gives 70 Kgs. of seeds and 30 Kgs. of cotton. The market price of one Kg. seed offered by companies to the farmers is Rs. 280 and Rs. 60 for one Kg. of cotton. The total income is Rs. 1,28,400. After deducting the production cost of nearly Rs. 70,000 (including supervision costs and interest on capital), the remaining Rs. 58,400 is net profit. It is the promise of these profits that attract farmers from the coastal Andhra to the low labour cost areas such as Telangana and Rayalaseema.

Growth of hybrid cottonseed cultivation in A.P.

In Andhra Pradesh the use of hybrid seeds in cotton and production of these seeds started in the early 1970s in the 'Green Revolution' districts of Guntur, Prakasham and Krishna in coastal Andhra5. From 1970-1980, cotton was grown abundantly in these districts using hybrid seeds. 1980 onwards, the crop yield started declining in these districts as various kinds of pests started spreading. Since the early 1980s, rich farmers of cotton have been migrating to other parts of Andhra Pradesh and to Karnataka, to areas less prone to pests, where land was available on rent at cheaper rates and more significantly where the labour costs were also lower. In the mid-1980s, hybrid cottonseed producers from coastal Andhra also spread out for the same reasons - chiefly to the Mahaboobnagar and Rangareddy districts of Telangana and to Kurnool district of Rayalaseema. Though seed production in these districts was initially confined to migrant farmers, in recent years the local rich farmers are also entering into this activity. Still a majority of the seed producers in these districts belong to migrant category.

There is a buoyant market for hybrid seeds. Unlike ordinary seeds, hybrid seeds can be used for only one crop and must therefore be purchased each year. Moreover, cotton is a major commercial crop in Andhra Pradesh, occupying about 900,000 hectares of land - with about 65.0% of this land using hybrid seed (Singh 1999, Crops and Season report, 1999). The growth of hybrid cottonseed production in the state is linked not only to increasing demand for hybrid seeds within the state itself but also to a growing demand for these seeds in the national and international markets. The seeds produced in the state are exported to other states and other countries also.

Though the hybrids are used in cotton all over the country (hybrids cover 40% of the total area under cotton), hybrid seed production is concentrated in South India particularly in the Telangana and Rayalaseema regions of A.P. and the Northern districts of Karnataka. Telangana and Rayalaseema regions of A.P. alone account for 62% of the seed production in India. It is concentrated more in Mahaboobnagar, and Rangareddy districts of Telangana and in Kumool district of Rayalaseema. Mahaboobnagar and Kurnool together account for nearly 99% of the seed production in A.P. In the year 1998-99, out of
Table 5: Division-wise area under hybrid cottonseed (public varieties) production in A.P. during 1997-98 and 1998-99 (hectares)
Source: Davuluri Venkateswarlu and Lucia da Corta, 2001
the 18,254 acres of land (the area under private research hybrids is not included) under cottonseed cultivation in A.P., 18,079 acres were in Mahaboobnagar and Kurnool districts alone (see table 5). The primary reason for concentration is availability of cheap labour and also suitability of agro climatic conditions. 55-60% of the seed produced in A.P. is exported to other states and countries6.

The production and marketing of hybrid seeds is carried out by both public and private seed agencies. The public sector includes State Seed Corporations of the cotton growing states and State Farms Corporation of India (SFCI). Hybrids are of two types - public and private. Public hybrids like JKH1, Savitha, NHH 44 are released by state agencies (i.e., Agricultural Universities). Private hybrids like Paras Brahma (released by Hindustan Lever Limited), Banny (Nuzeveedu seeds), RCH2 (Raasi seeds) 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. Though public sector Seed Corporations in other states are playing an important role, in production and marketing of hybrid cottonseed, yet in A.P. their share is negligible. In A.P. the share of State Seed Development Corporation is about only one percent7.

Note: The data includes only the area under public hybrids like NHH 44, Savitha, H-8, Varalakshmi, H-10 etc., which are notified by the government and registered with A.P. Seed Certification Agency. Exact data regarding the area under private research hybrids is not available. Private research hybrids like Brahma, RCH-2, Banny, Sanju are quite popular in A.P. On the basis of data provided by seed companies it is roughly estimated that in 1998-99 the area under private research hybrids was about 4,000 hectares.
Source: A.P. State Seed Certification Agency .

Contracts drawn between seed companies and local farmers

The increase in the demand for hybrid seeds in recent years has resulted in the proliferation of private companies, which produce and sell hybrid seeds8. Now there are about 100 small and big companies operating in A.P. They include small companies (such as Gopikrishna seeds, Surya seeds), which are confined to a few districts; larger companies (for example, Mahyco, Mahendra, Amarswary Agro Tec, Nath seeds, Ankur, Pravardhana seeds, Nallamala seeds, Raasi seeds), which sell their products state and nation-wide, and multinational seed companies like Monsanto, Hindustan Lever, Advanta (formerly ITC Zenaca), Novartis which have production and marketing networks across the countries.

Until the early 1990s, it was only local and national seed companies, which were mainly involved in seed production in this region. The trade liberalisation policy in the 1990s has encouraged the entrance of large-scale multinational seed companies (Vandana Shiva et al, 1999). The best example of this process is the presence in the area of Monsanto, an American based leading multinational seed company, which in 1998 entered into collaboration with Mahyco, one of India's largest seed companies, and started large-scale operations9.

The role of multinational seed companies in production and marketing of hybrid cottonseeds is rapidly increasing. In the year 1999-2000, multinational seed companies like Novartis, Hindustan Lever, Advanta (formerly ITC Zenaca), Proagro and Monsanto (in collaboration with Mahyco) accounted for nearly 15% (4,800 acres out of 32,290) of the area under hybrid cottonseed production in Andhra Pradesh. The total number of children employed in seed farms, managed by these companies (through seed organisers), is estimated around 43,000 (D. Venkateswarlu, 2001a).

Seeds companies, including multinationals, do not directly involve in the seed production. They operate through various intermediate agencies. Though companies are not directly involved in production process, their control over various aspects such as, supply of foundation seed, fixing seed prices, advancing production capital and quality supervision, largely influence the way production is being organised.

Companies arrange contracts with local farmers through middlemen called 'seed organisers' who mediate between companies and farmers for production of seeds. Each seed organiser is given same area and target of production. It is the responsibility of the seed organisers to identify the farmers who are willing to undertake seed production. They supply the foundation seeds to the farmer, determine the method of cultivation and set the price of seeds at harvest before cultivation begins. They collect seeds from these farmers and hand over to the companies. Companies then market them with their brand name. In agreement it is specified that farmers must sell their seed only to that company at the agreed price. Companies also advance about 30 to 40% of production cost (Rs. 15,000 to 20,000) as initial capital to farmers. If the quality of seed is not up to mark (as specified by the company in the agreement) then companies will not buy seed from farmers and contract becomes null and void. The total responsibility of producing genuine seeds lies with the farmers. These limits put on seed producers by the seed companies impel farmers to seek substantial control over the labour process.


India Committee of the Netherlands / Landelijke India Werkgroep - June 6, 2003