Round Table for Combating Child Labour in Hybrid Seed Industry

Organized by: M.V. Foundation (MVF), 19-2-2011, Hyderabad.

MVF is known for prevention of Child labour in various sectors. Since two years, AOFG India and MVF are working for its implementation of a child labour free hybrid cotton seed project -though not in an official way. Participants for teh roundtable were; Dr. Davuluri Venkateswarlu (Glocal Research), Dr.G.Venkat Raman (AOFG India), Dr. Donti Narsimha Reddy(Chetana Society), Ms.Sudha Mullapudi (Traid craft),  Mr. Murali ( UNICEF), Narsimha Reddy ( CARE), Mr.Anjaiah (NGO), Mr. Srinavas rao ( Child Rights Forum, Chairman) and other NGO representatives.

Mr. Venkat Reddy, National Convener, MVF, gave a presentation about the need to lobby the seed industry who are meeting on 22 and 23 February in Hyderabad.

Dr. Davuluri Venkateswarlu presented how child labour in hybrid seed industry has been shifted to Gujarat state, labour force involved in cotton seed fields, wage disparities, work hours, impact on health and education.

Dr. Narsimha Reddy shared his opinion on legal procedures and stressed the importance of the upcoming seed bill-2010. He circulated a draft copy of the bill.

Mr. Murali (UNICEF) expressed that, it is very difficult to tackle the powerful seed companies. The best way is to use the benefits of Right for Education act. But it is not yet finalized. Once it is in operation, every child should be in the school.  There are many contradicting opinions on this act; children are on roll while going to fields, parents to be educated, seed companies should have a self regulatory mechanism.

One interesting point raised is that wherever child labour prevention protests and welfare activities are going on, Govt. education schemes are implemented, there is decrease in child labour, but the seed production activities are shifted to remote tribal areas. Another great change in seed production activities is that, earlier seed production was done in large acreage with big farmers, but now it has been shifted to small family based farms.

From AOFG India cotton Project we are promoting organic cotton to ethical and fair trade brands, for which we need to maintain child labour free conditions across ALL the value chain. The seed used by our organic farmers is produced by commercial seed companies, by using child labour. All organic farmer groups require Child labour free hybrid cotton seed, and to meet this demand, we have initiated a project on seed production. We are also collecting data of existing child labour in our organic villages for their welfare and education. In a recently held workshop, our farmer leaders have taken a decision to allocate some Fair trade premium for child labour welfare activities.

The round table has decided to represent AP Government to consider following demands;

  • implement strictly Right to Education act,
  • amend child labour prevention act-1986,
  • file cases against seed companies who are indulging in child labour,
  • collect data of below 18 years age children,
  • rehabilitate the working children with bridge schools.

Round table made a resolution that this meeting should form as a forum and write a letter to seed companies to prevent child labour. Mr. Venkat Reddy has presented round table deliberations before Prof. C. Nageswar. He made an assurance that he would raise this issue in question hour of Andhra Pradesh Assembly, requesting to allocate one day for discussion.  Further he ascertained that we need to organize rally with child labour in Hyderabad.

The round table also formed a delegation to visit the Indian Seed congress, where all seed company people are meeting Seed companies should take a policy decision not to take child labour in seed fields. The same policy should be applied to seed organizers and sub-contractors. They should be in a committee at village level with Gram Sarpanch, civil servants, community based organizations, child rights activists. Seed companies should disclose list of labour working in their fields by indicating, age, sex, education background.

On 22nd February, 2011 the delegation lead by, M.V. Foundation has given a letter to India seed Congress, Hyderabad. The seed congress is opened by Andhra Pradesh Governor, Sri E.L. Narsimhan, presided over by Agriculture minister, Vivekananda Reddy.

The same delegation will meet again at appropriate time to take necessary steps to combat child labour in seed fields. For more information contact:

Mrs. Miratai Sunil Rao Deshmukh hails from Khed village of Morshi taluk of Amravati district, Vidharba region of Maharashtra in India. She is president of Om Adarsh Sendriya Shetkari Sanstha (Organic Farmer Group) which has a robust savings of Rs.1.57 lakhs, used as loan for the immediate needs of the group members.  Miratai also prepares and sells noodles to supplement her family income.

Her family owns 4 acres of rain fed land. She is inspirational to her fellow women members, and has been sincere in using only natural manure and preparing bio-pests to protect her cotton fields. She has been nominated as the best women organic farmer in Amravati region for her outstanding leadership qualities.

Textile Exchange, previously known as Organic Exchange featured Zameen in their annual fibre report.

Some of the salient news in the report:

  • India’s organic cotton production has more than doubled in two seasons from 75,000 MT in ’07-08 to almost 200,000 MT of lint fibre in ’09-10.
  • India now produces 80% of the global total organic cotton fibre.
  • Almost 70% of this is grown in one state: Madhya Pradesh…
  • India’s conventional cotton is almost 90 % genetically modified. Hence the risk of contamination is huge.
  • The govt body overseeign certification (APEDA) has forced projects to use an online system called “Tracenet” and fixed a maximum group size of not more than 500 farmers per ICS (Internal Control System) group to increase traceability.

India will continue to be a key player in organic cotton production in the context of being a country with the largest acreage potential, and a significant number of dedicated organic farming communities. This combined with an enviable production capability for a wide spectrum of textiles contributes to making India a “one stop destination” for brands.

The report’s recommendations for the organic cotton community include:

  • • Continue strengthening integrity in production, processing and certification;
  • • Further develop tools to measure impact through environmental, social and economic indicators;
  • • Promote and communicate best practice in responsible value chains;
  • • Understand how other financial models such as Fairtrade and rural financing models in other commodity sectors such as coffee might work for organic supply chains.

If you want to know more, please write us an Email:

In an IIM Bangalore Business & Development roundtable Zameen co-founder Gijs spoke about systems thinking and social enterprise. Read the IIMB review the article here.

And if you want the pdf file, please write to us.


At Zameen we have built a model to mainstream sustainability that should work across continents and across commodities. To test whether this is really true we are keen to learn about similar experiences in Africa and Latin America. If you see anything happening which looks like what we’re doing PLEASE let us know!

One of the networks where many likeminded “triple bottom line” enterpreneurs exchange notes is Progreso Network and there is a wealth of field guides and videos for everyone who is serious baout working alongside smallscale farmers to conquer the world: see these videos.

Zameen recently won an award which allowed us to make a 10 min video about our model for market access to share with other Fairtrade producer organisations worldwide. It includes interviews with our favourite UK brands like Pants to Poverty, EPONA and House of Tammam, footage of the GSM Ethical Fashion Forum event in London and a brief summary of how we think pro poor trade can work:

1 mobilise smallholder farmers

2 find a suppluy chain to process your raw material into fashion

3 find people who can help sell your product

4 trial orders with brands

5 deepen relations with brands to achieve mutual win win

The film is almost ready so watch this space!!


An estimated 2000 farmers attended this year’s Vidarbha Organic Farmers Association (VOFA) AGM to share their ideas and celebrate another year of success! VOFA is the name of the farmer association for Zameen farmers based in Maharashtra.

2,000 farmers attend AGM

2,000 farmers attend AGM

The day got off to a great start, as the farmers filtered in to visit some extraordinary stalls which showcased the innovative farming and business practices of all the region’s clusters (in this region the farmers are organised into seven groupings called clusters). Zameen was proud sponsor of the VOFA annual review, and also held its own stall to communicate to its farmer members how it works with partners across the supply chain. My highlights included miniature models of composting units, an effigy of a hanged farmer to highlight the suicide crisis and a farmer dressed in traditional clothes holding up a giant plough.

A effigy of a non-organic farmer hangs from the rafters

A effigy of a non-organic farmer hangs from the rafters

The proceedings continued with traditional flower garlands presented to all the speakers. In addition to the Chairman of AOFG, Mr Koshy, and Zameen Director, Gijs Spoor, the newly appointed Project Head, Dharmistha Chauha made a rousing speech. After a delicious lunch and chance to network, the farmers also had their opportunity to address the AGM, and I was delighted to see two impassioned female farmers speak.

Awards were presented for the best stall, cluster office, male and female farmer and Farmer Group and the day then drew to a close with a cultural programme. A local NGO called Rasikashraya performed one of their established shows about the merits of organic farming. Rasikashraya uses performance to communicate social messages to a variety of audiences based on briefs given by the organisations that hire them. The farmers were in stitches at the camp performance, which also touched on the sensitive farmer suicide issue.

The Environmental Justice Foundation have just released a damning report on endosulfan; END OF THE ROAD FOR ENDOSULFAN. The report includes some shocking images of the impact on human and animal health. They add their voice to the many (including Zameen farmers) who criticise the Indian government for its role in resisting a global ban.
End of the Road for Endosulfan

Paul May, Communications Manager

I have just attended a three day training program in Adilabad along with our farmer representatives and trainers.  The training session was about plant protection using organic farming methods. The idea is to extend the range of practices which our farmers are aware of so that they can protect their crops against a greater number of plant diseases.

Farmer trainers carry out weekly lessons in the field so that all the Zameen farmers receive important information on how to protect their crops. This is an important system Zameen uses to educate their farmers; we feel that it is very important for farmers to work together to teach one another.

The staff were all very enthusiastic to learn about new organic sprays, which they can make themselves, to protect their cotton plants and increase their cotton yields. They have also been encouraged to make better use of intercropping (when another plant such as soya or lentils is planted next to the cotton plants) techniques to help their cotton plants.

The training session was a great success and we hope that this will be proved with increased cotton yield both this year and in the years to come.

G.Venkat Raman
Technical Coordinator
AOFG Cotton Project

Sometimes we do hear about the big world even though we’re working in remote villages dealing with issues such as late monsoons, early pests, quality control of composts and cotton fibre.

Recently we learned about the Ethical Fashion Forum putting up a blog on the site of leading fashion magazine Drapers:

THIS IS GREAT news !! Well done EFF.

Zameen also managed to convince the mainstream media to pay attention – or rather the Ashoka Foundation put them on to us. This was in the social enterprise special of India’s leading OUTLOOK magazine.

outlook Gijs photoIt seems sustainable textiles is becoming mainstream which is good news for farmers and factory workers worldwide.

Now that the sector is growing it is time to bring in some clarity. A Frequently Asked Question (FAQ) section of the movement if you will. Till now anyone who did anything green and fair was a pioneer. No longer… More about “what to do” in the next blog entry.

Meanwhile, sit back, relax and stay true to the cause


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I’ve been working at Zameen Organic’s head office in Hyderabad for five weeks as a communications intern. Last week I had the chance to visit one of Zameen’s two farming areas, meet Zameen farmers and to see the cotton fields for myself. It was great to have the opportunity to meet the farmers and their families and to hear their stories and I was even invited to attend one of their festivals!

There were some great stories which came out during my time spent with them which really brought home the importance of Zameen’s sustainable and ethical business model which puts the farmer at the heart of everything it does.

Ravindra Ingale is a farmer trainer helping Zameen farmers to overcome problems such as pest invasions and teaching them new organic practices. His work involves giving one three hour lesson a week in the cotton fields to the other farmers in his group and attending one cluster meeting a month. By giving lessons in the field the famers are able to actively learn as they work. As a Farmer trainer he was paid a wage of 1,000 Indian Rupees (€13) a month to carry out his work, this supplements the income he makes from selling cotton. This salary has enabled him to move out of his cramped temporary home which wasn’t watertight, into a more spacious permanent house which he built himself made from bricks, tiles, and concrete.

In the village of Bhilopur a group of female farmers were so inspired by the work being carried out by one of the Zameen groups that they decided to set up their own female farmers group. Collectively they have been able to cultivate 35 more acres of cotton alongside other crops such as soya bean. The women decided to work together on each other’s fields for free to maximise their profits. They are excited to be in control of the money they will earn from the harvest and told me they were planning on spending it on education costs, such as books and uniforms for their children, and on family healthcare expenses. Over the next few harvests they hope to be able to raise enough from the Fairtrade premium money to be able to build a borehole well to provide a constant supply of water to the village, rather than having to depend on the current village supply which is only available for a total of four hours a day.

Everybody I spoke to during my stay was so positive about farming, which was a very refreshing contrast to the negative reports which are seen in the media, both in India and internationally. Most importantly, the farmers themselves saw this as a sustainable source of income, and were able to see their lifestyles improving through their relationship with Zameen, as well as benefits for the whole community.

Members of the female farmer group

Members of the female farmer group