Barring a few, most sugar mills in Sindh did not start cane crushing on November 1 as per notification of the provincial government. This has caused anxiety among rain-hit farmers, especially of lower Sindh who are still struggling to recover from crop damages of the recent monsoon rains.
The millers say they will start crushing after Ashura (December 6), while the cash –strapped growers are hoping against hope that they would start buying cane soon.
As per Sugar Factories Control Act 1950, crushing should start in October, but after the number of sugar mills increased in Sindh (mostly belonging to politicians) they began dictating their terms to the provincial government. The Sindh government in 2008 fixed November 10 as official date for crushing cane, making a clear deviation from the provision of law.
The then Sindh Agriculture Secretary Subhago Khan Jatoi had told this scribe that the government was compelled to shift the crushing date to November to avoid embarrassment at the hands of factory owners who always questioned the writ of the government by not complying with its order.
The millers now do not even comply with the new set date. Some growers anticipate millers would start crushing by mid or end of December to reduce number of crushing days and buy cane at low prices.
Badin district has perhaps the highest number of sugar mills in Sindh i.e. six next to Mirpurkhas having five. These districts on the left bank of Indus were battered by monsoon rains and the Left Bank Outfall Drain’s over topping. Besides, Sanghar, Tando Mohammad Khan, Umerkot and Thatta were also ravaged by the calamity destroying rice, cotton and sugarcane crops.
Submerged in water, cane was seriously damaged, lost weight, developed roots. Growers were unable to drain out water from their fields due to non-availability of pumps. They had to cut ridges of irrigation channels and saline water drains to flush out rainwater to save the remaining crops.
Having lost their Kharif crops, the farmers are in a miserable condition. The cane crop can help them overcome their misery.
But the inordinate delay in crushing would hurt them given the fact that cultivation of wheat is to follow. Farmers are keen to harvest cane to sow Rabi crops.
According to Sindh Chamber of Agriculture (SCA) representative Zahid Bhurgari not much farming activity is taking place in rural Sindh as it is directly linked with cane crushing. “Farmers need money to prepare their land and cultivate wheat. It is feared that farmers would not get payment of sugarcane on time,” he says. By delaying crushing, the millers would render the cane growers vulnerable; they would have no option but to sell their produce at the rates offered by millers or middlemen, he said.
Sindh Abadgar Board (SAB) President Abdul Majeed Nizamani describes the notification fixing November 1 as crushing date a violation of the Sugar Factories Control Act 1950. “Unless the relevant act is amended, the government has to fix the date of crushing in October, otherwise it will be deemed to be a flagrant violation of the act by the government,” he says.
“The growers are concerned about wheat cultivation and have urged the government to fix four million acres target for sowing wheat,” he says. However, in the present situation it seems very difficult. “We are told that millers want to pay Rs125 per 40kg against official price of Rs154 after they learnt that millers in Punjab were offering the rate of Rs135,” he says. But cane in Sindh gives more sucrose recovery than the crop produced in Punjab.
A cane grower from Tando Allahyar, Aziz Memon, said he had to send his crop to Tharparkar sugar mill in Mirpurkhas as the mill in his own district had not started crushing by November 25. “I sent two trolleys of cane to Mirpurkhas because I had to save it from cattle grazers who not only take grass from the field but also cut away cane,” he says. “I will go for multiple cropping like onion, wheat and cane as soon as my land is freed of cane,” he adds.
The farming community has been asking the government to fix the rate of Rs250 per 40kg of sugarcane. According to grower bodies’ estimate, cane crop had suffered 30 per cent losses during the rains.
Harvesting of cane has started and reports suggest that growers were incurring extra labour and transportation charges in delivering the produce to mills. Trolleys and trucks cannot enter fields as the soil is wet and farm workers demand extra money for loading the crop.
Farmers want the provincial government to order factories to start crushing forthwith. In the meantime office of Cane Commissioner of Sindh remains ineffective before the influential mill owners. Till Nov 28 nine mills had started crushing while 21 others had fired their boilers.