Inordinate delay in cane crushing has left the growers in a quandary. Long queues of tractor trolleys and trucks can be seen outside sugar mills in various districts of Sindh which have started crushing. It takes two to three days for a trolley to offload the cane at these mills. According to Sindh Cane Commissioner’s office, 20 out of 33 sugar mills have started crushing while civil proceedings have been initiated against those eight who failed to start operation in line with the Sindh government’s notification to start operation from November 1.
The farmers have been informed that the rest of the factories will start crushing after December 25. This indicates that the number of crushing days will be reduced and farmers will be forced to sell their cane without much bargain.
Cane is mainly grown on the left bank of River Indus. Cane crop in this part including Tando Muhammad Khan, Thatta, Tando Allahyar, Mirpurkhas, Badin, Matiari and rural parts of Hyderabad district were devastated by monsoon rains during the Kharif season. Crops of paddy and cotton were also badly affected in these areas.
Growers were expecting that timely crushing of cane would relieve them of financial constraints and enable them to sow Rabi crops mainly wheat after harvesting cane. But contrary to their expectations, they are facing financial hardship due to delay in cane crushing. Moreover, there are some areas in Mirpurkhas and Badin where rainwater is still standing. The farmers are approaching the Sindh Irrigation and Drainage Department officials to flush out water from their fields so that they may start Rabi cultivation.
Dr Nadeem Qamar, official of the Sindh Chamber of Agriculture (SCA), says the growers were demanding of the government to force millers to start purchase of sugarcane. “Sugar mills have once again failed to comply with the government’s notification thus questioning its very writ. Lodging their protest against the attitude of the millers, the farmers have resorted to protest by blocking various roads in the area.
He raps government for delaying decision to lift sugar stocks from mills despite having discussed the subject in the Economic Coordination Committee (ECC) meetings. “I don’t know why the TCP is not being asked to buy sugar from millers or the factory owners allowed to export it,” he says.
Another SCA member, Zahid Bhurgari from Mirpurkhas, points out that farmers are bearing unnecessary expenses of transportation as trolleys consume too much time to offload the crop at mills. “It is taking around 52 hours for a trolley to offload and consequently they are charging the growers exorbitantly,” he says.
Farmers point out that sugar mill owners claim that when they start crushing in October or November the sugar recovery is poor. However, cane growers reject it on the ground that sugar recovery has always been 8-8.5 per cent in initial days of crushing which increases as the season progresses.
Chief of the Sindh Abadgar Board (SAB), Abdul Majeed Nizamani, says “sugar recovery remains at 6.75 per cent or between 8-8.5 per cent during initial days of crushing. So far 17 sugar mills have started crushing. “If we accept the argument of sugar mills that they are not getting desired recovery and that’s why they are delaying crushing then do they want to buy sugarcane at a stage when they would get 10 per cent recovery, and if so will they pay the price of cane as per rate of recovery?” he asks.
He says that 10 per cent recovery of sugar will not be achieved until January. “Even in the third weak of Dec 20, Matiari sugar mills have reported recovery of 9.5 per cent,” he remarks. After research it was decided that mills will start crushing in October as it is the ideal period for crushing. “The climate remains a bit hot and humid in October which affects cane’s sucrose content but as winter starts (Novem-ber) the recovery improves,” he elaborates.
Under present circumstances, no government intervention is seen to make mills start crushing as per notification. The management of three sugar mills, Laar, Najma and Mirza, have stated that they are not in a position to start crushing because rainwater is still standing in their mills premises, says Sindh Cane Commissioner’s office.
Nizamani, however, contends that the government should lift sugar stocks of last year from sugar mills to enable them to pay growers. The country is expected to produce 4.7 million tons of sugar against its requirement of 4.3 million tons this year, therefore there is not going to be any issue of sugar shortage,” he hopes.