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Syngenta Eradicating Child Labour with Me Mine

In an interview with BK Jha Syngenta s South Asia Vice President KC Ravi speaks about the benefits of Me Mine programme Excerpts
KC Ravi
Vice President, Syngenta South Asia
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What makes Syngenta’s Me & Mine a unique CSR programme? How does it help farmers’ in terms of better working conditions?

Syngenta is the first company to adopt and implement the Fair Labour programme in agriculture sector in association with Fair Labor Association. Over the years, we have developed systems and procedures with clear definition of roles and responsibilities of all the stakeholders. The progress is evaluated through a robust internal monitoring and evaluation process.

We have comprehensive programmes covering nine critical parameters like child labour, discrimination, health and safety to ensure that overall working conditions on the seed supply farms are improved. One of the crucial activities of the Syngenta’s Me & Mine programme is to help create mass awareness on eradication of child labour among workers and encourage them to continue the education of their children.
 
Another unique feature of the programme is stewardship. Syngenta conducts continuous training programmes for the farmers and workers on safe usage of chemicals in agriculture. In many instances, Syngenta also provides Personal Protective Equipment facilities for safe storage of chemical boxes and waste disposal.

Child labour, in rural areas, is a common practice as it adds to income of poor farmers’ families. How does Syngenta tackle this  traditional  mindset? 
 
The phenomenon of child labour in agriculture is probably as old as agriculture itself. But we have realised that with the right kind of mass awareness campaigns in the production villages to the growers and workers, using innovative communication materials on child education and folk arts to sensitise the villagers, it is possible to eradicate child labour.
 
Sensitising the community about the legal requirement and explaining the initiatives of government to support child education i.e. residential schools, mid-day meals etc. have also helped us in this effort.
 
Syngenta’s Me &Mine addresses working conditions on seed supply farms. It aims to eradicate child labourand unjust working conditions in  the seed production farms. What has been achieved so far?
 

We are happy to say that with our continuous efforts, one of our biggest achievements has been to bring down the use of child labour to almost zero in our production fields. The awareness levels have increased among the growers and workers who in turn have in fact also been instrumental in influencing the other industry partners to do so.
 
What is the role of Fair Labor Association (FLA)? 
 
FLA conducts the external verification of our seed supply farms on a regular basis to monitor the level of compliance. They also conduct the Social Impact Assessment to access the working conditions and improvement in livelihood of the workers. After a thorough audit, the FLA has accredited the Indian programme in October 2015.
 
In the last six years, Syngenta has reached out to farm workers in several states. What are your future plans? Would this unique  CSR programme  be launched in other states too?
 
Presently, the scope of our programme is field production and if we expand the seed production in other states apart from the above states we will implement the same programme there as well.
 
How many farmers have been benefitted under the programme? What are the benefits of this programme?

 
Around 30,000 farmers are benefited through the Syngenta’s Me & Mine programme. Syngenta has always believed in a harmonious relationship between various stakeholders and in being partners in progress with rural communities. The programme has helped in developing a common social binding between the company, growers and the workers.
 
Syngenta has recently undertaken six public commitments under its “Good Growth Plan” to support sustainable agriculture. One of the commitments is to look after every worker and help people to stay safe. This programme also helps us in fulfilling this commitment.
 
Which are the sites for Me & Mine programme?
 
Presently the Me & Mine programme is in all states where we produce the seeds like Maharashtra, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana and Gujarat. The other programmes are spread across Bihar, Goa and other locations. 
 
Apart from this programme, what are the other CSR initiatives of Syngenta and whether any initiative to support farmers are planned for next year (FY16-17)?
 
Besides Syngenta’s Me & Mine programme, we have some ongoing CSR programmes around the country. We are contributing in a small way to the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan through our unique Syngenta I-CLEAN initiative. The programme involves inculcating cleanliness, learning, education, awareness and new habits in rural communities.
 
We have identified five remote villages in East Champaran district of Bihar in the first phase and upgraded the vegetable markets in Mangrahi. In addition to this, we have installed solar lights to electrify the market, hand pumps for drinking water and garbage disposal bins. Besides providing security to the village which has not been electrified, 60 children study under the lights five days a week. We have thus added another component to the programme called Syngenta I-CLEAN Pathshala. Through the village committee that has been constituted, we create awareness of cleanliness and hygiene in the nearby schools and villages. We have also constructed a toilet block in the adjacent market to the village.
 
Any other initiative?

Another unique initiative we undertook was a farmer intervention programme in Punjab and Haryana. There was an unprecedented pest infestation on cotton destroying 60 percent of the crops. This caused tremendous distress among the farming communities. Under our Krishi Vikas initiative, we supplied 6,300 farmers with wheat seed procured from Punjab Agriculture University (PAU) and crop protection kits for the most distressed farmers across 16 districts for their next cropping cycle. Our effort was appreciated by the Punjab Chief Minister and other senior bureaucrats.
 
Other community development programmes like supporting mineral water plants, waste management, building toilets for schools, providing school infrastructure, scholarships, skill development and self-help groups are ongoing across our various sites. These programmes will be further intensified in 2016-17.
 

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