Rice Farming in Pakistan
The supply chain for rice is tricky, with many intermediaries. Farmers who grow rice are often poor and less knowledgeable about requirements on quality and cost. Axfoundation works to improve rice farmers’ conditions in the Punjab province of Pakistan. Among other brands, Axfood’s own label Garant basmati rice is farmed in the region.
The cultivation of rice is labor intensive and farmers in Punjab are working according to traditional methods where all the work is done by hand, starting early morning. Child labor and forced labor is common, and the conditions of rice farmers and laborers in the fields in general, and for women and children in particular, are difficult. Water, chemicals and environmental aspects are also part of the risk spectrum.
The use of machines for planting and harvesting is a valuable investment that farmers, for economic reasons, refrain from. In addition, the Pakistani government has refused to support rice farmers with financial aid. The cultivation is planned according to the season and abundant streams of water at the wrong time can result in large losses for growers. It can take up to five years for farmers to pay off incurred debts that they often owe special intermediaries, so-called “ahrtis”.
In the fall of 2015, Axfoundation and Axfood assigned Oxfam to perform a feasibility study and a workshop locally in Pakistan with a diversified mix of participants, not least female rice farmers. Oxfam Novib (Netherlands) and Oxfam Pakistan presented its survey of conditions surrounding rice cultivation in Pakistan in the spring of2016.
The report shows that women from low castes within the Pakistani caste system working in rice cultivation in Punjab are at high risk of discrimination, lower pay and sexual harassment. Although the Pakistani government has set a minimum salary of 1,200 rupees, compliance is not guaranteed. Instead the minimum wage is often decided by a so-called “labor contractor” who acts as an employer to the rice farmers. The price of rice has gone down in recent years which also makes it harder for farmers to maintain profitable production, because they still have the same expenditure as before. Many rice farmers are therefore indebted.
Step by step, the goal is to improve working conditions for basmati rice farming in Pakistan. We can do this by working with grassroot groupss and strategic suppliers that have both influence and interest in sustainable farming practices and decent working conditions. The goal is for farmers to be able to organize themselves as well as receive training in farming techniques and acceptable and gender equal working and living conditions.
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Photo: Oxfam, Punjab, December 2015