E Kumar Sharma
"In spite of the legal requirements, payment of minimum wages is an issue
in the agriculture sector in general, and seed production in particular, in India," says a report on agricultural wages released on December 12 in the US and the Netherlands.
The report, 'Wages of inequality - Wage discrimination and underpayment in Hybrid seed production in India', has been commissioned by the Fair Labor Association (FLA) and the India Committee of the Netherlands (ICN).
Both are non-governmental, international organisations focusing on fair labour conditions.
The key finding of the study is that despite the significant increase in wages in recent years on account of NREGA and other factors
, wage rates for certain activities and categories of workers are still below legal minimum levels, especially for women and children.
The study focused on labour wages in India's hybrid seed production (such as cotton and vegetables). It was conducted mainly in the four major hybrid seed producing states: Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Karnataka and Maharashtra.
"In many states, the Minimum Wages Act is not implemented properly in the agricultural sector. There is lack of awareness about the Act among workers and farmers alike," says the study.
"Hybrid seed production is a fast-growing, Rs 12,000 crore industry in India and is supposed to be better organised as seed production is done mostly through contract farming/production," says Dr Davuluri Venketeswarlu, one of the authors of the report. He conducted the study along with Jacob Kalle.
Venkateswarlu is currently the Director of Glocal Research, a Hyderabad-based research and policy advocacy organisation. Jacob Kalle is pursuing a Ph.D in 'Agriculture Biotechnology and Ethics' from the University of Hyderabad.
Interestingly, the study does not see much variation in the average wages of labourers engaged in producing seeds for MNCs and those producing seeds for local companies.
"Of the total 200 sample farms selected for the survey, 37.5 per cent (25 cottonseed and 50 vegetable seed farms) were producing seed for MNCs: Monsanto, Syngenta, Bayer, DuPont, and Advanta. Comparison of wage data between farms producing for MNCs and those producing for local companies shows no significant variation," says the study.
It cites an example: "The average daily wage rates for ploughing and spraying pesticides in Koppal in Karnataka varied between Rs 162.50 and Rs 184.50 on MNC farms and between Rs 160.80 and Rs 184 on farms producing for local companies. Similarly, for other activities, the difference in average wage rates was marginal (less than three per cent) between MNCs and local companies."
Food for thought there.