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Contract Farming in India: Impacts on women and child workers

Sukhpal Singh

Book/Report, 24 pages

Under contract farming arrangements, landowners or tenants have contracts with agribusiness marketing and/or processing firms who specify prices, timing, quality and quantity/acreage of the produce to be delivered. Workers employed by contract producers tend to experience poor terms and conditions, especially women workers, and there is an increasing incidence of child labour.This paper draws on case studies of hybrid cottonseed production in Andhra Pradesh and vegetable farming in Punjab. It argues that agriculture is becoming increasingly ‘feminised’ as men move out of the sector more quickly than women, and as women become the preferred labour type for many employers. While these new labour arrangements have led to marginal increases in real income for some women workers, they have also changed relationships between workers and employers, workers and work, and led to differentiation within labour. Of greater concern is the issue of child labour; one of the major problems in contract farming throughout the developing world. India is one of the main users of child labour in the Asian region, with almost 80% of working children employed in the agricultural sector. The cottonseed case study reveals that children are employed, mainly girls, who might be as young as six. With no social security obligations, there is hardly any cost involved for the employers. The author argues for the need to take a gender perspective to address the whole question of a changing agrarian production structure under contract farming. He suggests that banning child labour is not the answer; instead conditions for these children need to be made more tolerable, and their education and skills need to be built so as to release them andtheir families from the vicious cycle of poverty and exploitation. He also calls for industry - regulated codes of conduct.

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