Syngenta Me and Mine: Building an Ethical Supply Chain in India ILO and the UN Food and Agriculture Organization estimated that 59% of the child labor globally is employed in agriculture and agri-related activities. Their joint report on Food, Agriculture and Decent Work cited that eliminating child labor in agriculture is taking a long time for many reasons, and one of the nagging issues is cultural impediments. Tradition for unpaid family labor involving children participating in agricultural activities makes this problem persist and hard to eliminate.
Women Mobilisers of Syngenta Me and Mine
Syngenta Me & Mine focuses on women workers by educating them on fair labor practices. One thing that the project managers realized was, that only a woman can develop a good rapport with other women and understand their personal issues. Hence women mobilizers were appointed in three different locations (which states and when?) to reach out to female workers at the farm level. In Karnataka we selected Manjula Aralikattemata, from Irkalagada village of Koppal, who was working for the National Rural Health Mission (NRHM).
Thirty five year old Manjula belongs to a poor family and was married-off at the tender age of thirteen. Her husband Shantaveeresh died of a snake bite when Manjula was just 18 and she was cheated out of his property by his brothers. She returned to her parents’ house and slowly started to rebuild her life with a firm resolve that she would help other women like herself. In 2008 she underwent The ASHA training sponsored by NRHM which seeks to provide every village in the country with a trained female community health activist. ASHA or Accredited Social Health Activist is selected from the village itself and works as an interface between the community and the public health system. Manjula got dynamically involved in all the activities of Irkalagada village – and helped rural women by educating them on health issues like reproductive health, child health, child immunization etc.
Syngenta local field production team observed her commitment to the NRHM program and offered her the post of a women mobiliser (third party employee) for Syngenta Me and Mine in October 2010.
For the past five years Manjula has been serving the agriculture community especially women workers on improving labor standards in seed production farms. Since she faced a number of hurdles early on in her life like child marriage, child labor, etc., she is determined to fight against them as a woman mobilizer. Since 2010 she has identified more than 35 children who were working as farm labor, and then fought to get them re-admitted to school. She also succeeded in stopping 4 child marriages using her rapport with local leaders, village schools, health department, NGOs etc.
She regularly visits farms and houses of workers to spread awareness on children education, health and sanitation, safe use of chemicals and prevention against animal or insect bites etc. She has trained 500 growers and around 2500 farm labor spread over 35 villages in the past five years.
Manjula who is well-recognized by the seed production workers and growers of Koppal says,” I struggled too much in life. Nobody came forward to stop my marriage at an early age. I am determined now to ensure that no girl child in the village suffers the fate that I did. I support Syngenta’s initiative wholeheartedly; it has given me a good platform to serve rural women and make a difference”.
From poverty to prosperity
When 45 year old Renukamma got married to Umapathi, the family had 4 acres of dry land which was used for growing a few commercial crops in one season. To make ends meet Renukamma along with her kids used to work as farm labor in the fields of other growers. In 1994 when Syngenta came to Yaraballi village with its products and solutions Umapathi switched to seed production. This turned around their fortunes and the family began making good money. However Renukamma’s kids, one boy and three girls, did not go to school as the family did not understand the value of education. In 2004, Syngenta began working with the Fair Labour Association (FLA) and motivated growers in the area for complete eradication of child labor in seed production farms. Syngenta representatives encouraged Umapathi and Renukamma to send their children to school. As a result her son and youngest daughter are both graduates and the latter has also acquired a B.Ed. degree.
Thanks to the good farming practices and latest technologies shared by Syngenta’s Me and Mine program, the economic condition of the family has vastly improved. Renukamma’s family has bought 4 more acres of land out of which 2.5 acres is allocated exclusively for seeds production. She now hires farm labor to work in her fields and adhering to the stringent labor standards set by Me and Mine she ensures they follow safety measures, use personal protective equipment while spraying pesticides and take extra caution in the proper storage of chemicals.
"Syngenta has been the stepping stone for my family, it has altered my life" said Renukamma.