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Farming technology fills in for child labour

Ch. Prashanth Reddy

Scarcity of labour has made farmers to adopt improved methods of cultivation, with most of them increasingly shifting towards mechanisation of agricultural operations.

HYDERABAD, Feb. 20

WITHDRAWAL of children from work has brought about important changes in the agricultural labour market. It has changed workforce composition and increased the demand for adult labour, which in turn has led to labour scarcity and rise in wage rates.

Labour scarcity and rise in labour costs have also to some extent influenced the changes that have taken place in cropping pattern, farming practices and livestock management, according to a study made by Dr Davuluri Venkateswarlu and Dr Mohammad Mustafa of the Glocal Research & Consultancy Services here.

The study was commissioned by Mamidipudi Venkatarangaiah Foundation (MVF), a non-governmental organisation, which has been actively working for eradication of child labour in Rangareddy district of Andhra Pradesh. Since 1990, at the instance of MVF, thousands of children were removed from work and admitted to schools.

Doing away with child labour, according to the study, has led to a decline in the area under hybrid cottonseed and floriculture, which are known for employing children on a large-scale. There has also been a significant rise in less labour-intensive commercial crops such as mango, grape, orange, guava and citrus orchards, apart from maize, sunflower and red gram. The problem of labour scarcity has primarily contributed to the rise in the area of these crops.

Similarly, absence of child labour made the maintenance of livestock more expensive. As a result, some families have completely sold their livestock as they found that employing adults to maintain their small livestock was uneconomical.

Nevertheless, withdrawal of child labour has a positive impact on agriculture. Scarcity of labour has made farmers to adopt improved methods of cultivation. They are increasingly shifting towards mechanisation of agricultural operations besides using HYV seeds, chemical fertilisers and pesticides.

The study was conducted in Shankerpally, Nawabpet, Doma and Kulkacherla mandals of Rangareddy district. Of these, Shankarpalli and Nawabpet mandals are almost child labour-free. Nearly 97 per cent of children in these two mandals are going to school. On the other hand, in Doma and Kulkacherla mandals, nearly 20 to 25 per cent of the children are still out of school and are actively involved in various agricultural activities.

Following withdrawal of child labour in Shankarpalli and Nawabpet mandals, the area under fruit orchards and crops such as maize, sunflower and redgram has increased from 2,810 acres 1989-90 to 6,988 acres in 1999-2000. Besides, except in Shankarpalli, all the other three mandals have witnessed a declining trend in livestock population.

A comparison of changes in the use of modern and traditional farm machinery between 1987-88 and 1993-94 indicates that Shankarpalli and Nawabpet mandals, which are free of child labour, are far ahead of other mandals in shifting towards modern farm machinery and implements.

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