By Elizabeth Niven
Seasonal employees work at Monsanto’s cotton-breeding station in Abohar, Punjab, in northwest India, where they plant, weed, harvest and gin the cotton. Established in 2008, this 52-acre station develops cotton hybrids suitable for farmers in northern India.
The children from Monsanto’s 50-60 seasonal workers and from the farming village attend the local government’s primary school. More than 400 children at the school receive books, uniforms, lunches and weekly visits from a nurse. What they didn’t receive was a place to sit or clean water to drink. Students sat on the floor during class and drank ground water from a bore well.
“Our team discussed a variety of facility improvements with the school management and the local government authorities,” said Venkata Ramana Challa, operations and ESH manager for India Cotton Breeding. “We knew by investing in the school, our families would be healthier, the children would go to school regularly and the community’s standard of living would improve.”
To pay for the improvements, the Monsanto team planted winter wheat after the cotton harvest in the previously fallow fields. This new practice prevented soil erosion and better mimicked the crop rotation of the local farmers, which also allowed realistic crop comparisons and evaluations with their customers. The proceeds from the winter wheat harvest paid for school improvements and, as a self-funding project, would continue on a yearly basis.
The Monsanto team recently presented the school with a reverse-osmosis water system, new ceiling fans, new desks and chairs from their proceeds.
“Our students attend school when temperatures can reach anywhere between 40-450C (104-1130F) degrees in summer for several days,” said Naseeb Kaur Jakhar, head mistress of the Government Primary School, Seed Farm, Pucca. “With the ceiling fans, our classrooms are better ventilated and students are able to concentrate. The recent improvements have helped our students stay healthy and ready to learn. They also are able to get more out of their studies with a comfortable place to sit.”
The benches and desks also keep students off the cold floor in the winter months. The RO water system provides good quality water for students to drink and stay healthy.
Next on the list of improvements, according to C. K. Guha Sarkar, India Cotton Breeding lead, are toilets for the students and teachers, a room for the school nurse and playground equipment. The funding for these improvements will come from the winter wheat proceeds.
“Through this project, we are making a long-term investment in our community and improving peoples’ lives by providing a safe and productive educational environment for their children,” said Sarkar.
The self-funding project also demonstrates to other farmers and community members the immediate results from productive farming with the proceeds of the winter wheat crop staying in the community and directly funding the school.
Abohar, located in the state of Punjab, is known as the “land of the five rivers” and one of the most productive and fertile regions in the world with its rich soil and excellent irrigation sources. Punjab produces 14 percent of India’s cotton and 2 percent of worldwide cotton.