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Half of the companies report involving smallholder farmers in seed production in most index countries; child labor remains a concern.
Through local seed production, companies can address the limited availability of quality seeds while advancing the local seed sector.
India is clearly the region’s primary location for company activity in seed production. Among the companies that do not produce seed in India are those with limited scope outside their country of origin, including BRAC Seed and Agro Enterprise (Bangladesh) and Punjab Seed Corporation (Pakistan), while all companies based outside South and Southeast Asia produce seed there. The secondary location is Thailand.
Significant reform in Thailand, linked to the government’s ambition to make the country a major seed production hub, is reflected in the presence of 13 companies with seed production locations. At the regional level, the data indicates that Advanta has the most (8) seed production locations, followed by Charoen Pokphand (7) and East-West Seed (6).
No seed production by index companies was reported for Afghanistan and Cambodia. Advanta is the only company producing seed in Sri Lanka, with smallholder farmers accounting for more than 90% of the production. Companies have an opportunity to broaden their seed production activities in these countries specifically.
Despite a lack of corporate commitment, in practice companies are working closely with smallholders in their seed production. A snapshot of five regional companies shows that Acsen HyVeg, Kalash Seeds, Lal Teer Seed, Metahelix and Nuziveedu Seeds alone employ more than 92,000 smallholders for this purpose. The varying extent to which companies formalize these relationships through employment contracts and risk/benefit-sharing is notable.
Evidence was found that 17 of the 24 companies offer formal contracts to smallholder seed growers. East-West Seed, Acsen HyVeg and Kalash Seeds demonstrate a greater level of accountability, as evidenced by their grower agreements. Smallholder farmers carry out 100% of seed production for East-West Seed in Indonesia, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam, and the company has explicit procedures to evaluate any potential losses incurred and arrange compensation on a case-by-case basis. Advanta provides financial support to farmer organizations through advances on production costs; Acsen HyVeg formalizes its ‘Growers Agreements’ via pre-sowing meetings, during which specific crop details and quality standards are discussed; and Namdhari Seeds offers contracts that protect farmers’ rights and ensure consistent price terms.
Although smallholder farmers carry out 100% of seed production for Corteva Agriscience in Indonesia, the Philippines and Thailand, the company does not differentiate its contracts based on the size of a farmer’s plot. National Seeds Corporation states that it will not be liable for grower losses for any reason whatsoever, including accidents or natural causes. Many companies in the region offer contracts through intermediaries/organizers and hence do not directly address contracted smallholders. The nature of the contract between these organizers and smallholder farmers remains unclear. Companies are encouraged to develop and improve contracts that address the specific needs and requirements of smallholder farmers, and to ensure that risks and profits are shared equitably and formalized within the contracts offered.
Among the companies demonstrating leading practices regarding labor conditions is Syngenta, which in 2015 became the first agriculture company to receive Fair Labor Association accreditation for its systems and procedures in India. Sakata stands out for its robust policy on labor standards in seed production.
The issue of child labor in South and Southeast Asia, and particularly in India, is longstanding. Seed companies in the region are far from exempt. In 2017, the Council on Ethics for the Government Pension Fund Global (GPFG) raised its concerns about the usage of child labor in the agriculture industry in India, including partners of Advanta. In response to the concerns raised, Advanta submitted a reply wherein it reported how it contractually binds its growers, farmers and organizers against the use of child labor. Advanta further reports that it is initiating various other initiatives such as spot checks, local level awareness raising campaigns, as well as encouraging and sponsoring child education, to enable the company to improve its compliance programs and work towards the reduction or eradication of the use of child labor in the industry.
Several companies have now introduced corporate-led approaches to tackle the issue. Fourteen companies state that child labor is explicitly prohibited within seed production. Encouragingly, the majority of those with positions demonstrate transparency and accountability by embedding these commitments in corporate documents such as annual or sustainability reports. Leading practices include East-West Seed’s use of a mobile app to report child labor directly to senior management, and Bayer’s Child Care Program team, which employs 98 staff across the region to tackle the root cause of the issue via tailored education and awareness-building initiatives.
Nonetheless, the problem of child labor is still prevalent. The industry still needs to go further to eradicate child labor within seed production.
In each measurement areas activities or approaches are identified that stand out or can be considered innovative in the industry. They contribute to the score of a company through leadership indicators.
East-West Seed’s Creative Young Farmer is a program in Indonesia that aims to inspire next-generation farmers to become seed producers. Through the program, people below 30 years of age receive training in seed production and resource management, and are encouraged to share their knowledge and experience with each other on social media.
It is envisaged that participants will go on to inspire other young people to join the farming industry by showcasing their own success.
Syngenta strives to ensure fair labor conditions along its supply chain with its ‘Look after every worker’ commitment. The company states in its 2017 progress report that it has exceeded its 2020 target by over 25%, with strong progress in Bangladesh, India, the Philippines and Vietnam.
Syngenta receives leadership points for its activities in India, which were accredited by the Fair Labor Association in 2015. The company states that in 2017, the Fair Labor Program covered 86% of its seed supply farms, compared to 82% in 2016.