HYDERABAD: The very first meeting of the Sugarcane Control Board (SCB), which was scheduled for Oct 14 for fixation of sugar-cane price for 2020-21 season, has been postponed and it will now be held on Oct 20.

The crop is ready for harvest but price and date of cane crushing’s commencement are to be notified by the Sindh government.

Negotiations for determination of cane price would begin once the government holds first meeting of the board. The Sindh government had last year fixed rate of Rs192/40kg for 2019-20 season and issued such notification on Nov 30 and millers had suspended around a dozen mills in lower Sindh region soon after commencement of crushing while arguing that they were confronting ‘no sugar cane’ situation.

This year Sindh’s sugar-cane crop, as per initial estimates of the agriculture department, is 6.8pc less than target sowing. It is said to have been cultivated at 288,800ha against target of 310,000ha this season. During 2019-20 season, it was grown on 286,090ha.

Cane growers want Rs200-plus price for 40kg cane considering their input cost and the rising cost of sweetener. Economic Coordination Committee (ECC) has already allowed 200,000 tonnes import of sugar in Aug 2020.

“We believe that a timely start of [sugar-cane] crushing will help control the market as far as price of sweetener is concerned which is over Rs100 in Punjab and around Rs100 in Sindh. It is too much a price”, contended Sindh Abadgar Board vice president Mehmood Nawaz Shah. “An unnecessary delay in start of crushing season will not be fair”, he said.

In Hyderabad’s retail market a kilogramme of sugar was being sold for Rs98 with a wholesale price of Rs94 per 1kg. Hyderabad district administration is penalising retailers for not selling sugar at Rs90 per 1kg despite retailers’ insistence that they were not getting the commodity at less than Rs90. “How can we sell a commodity for Rs90 which we are getting at Rs94 from wholesalers?”, remarked one of them.

Reports indicate that around 32 sugar mills are likely to participate in crushing season this year. In 2019-20 season, 14,286,367.152 tonnes cane was crushed in Sindh that produced 1,459,234.3 tonnes of sugar. Some 31 sugar mills, out of 38, had crushed sugar cane.

‘Cotton production on decline’

Sugar-cane cultivation in Sindh has remained between 220,000ha-230,000ha in years 2000 to 2013-14. It was only in 2017-18 when 333,000ha of land was brought under its cultivation. Many growers believe that sugar cane has made inroads in cotton-producing left bank areas of Sindh and that is harming cotton production that is already facing a constant decline. Against a low-delta cotton crop, sugar cane comparatively remains a high-delta crop.

Price controversy always hit sugar-cane crushing season as growers are seen blaming sugar factory owners of not paying them adequate or notified price. The millers on the other hand say that they buy cane at a higher price which was not viable for them.

“There has been variation in sugar-cane price last year. And it varied from farmer to farmer”, a SAB official said. He said if someone got Rs210/per 40kg average rate of his crop there is one who got Rs193-194 per 40kg as an average price of cane.

According to Sindh Chamber of Agriculture (SCA) president Miran Mohammad Shah, in his meeting with Sindh agriculture minister, the SCA demanded Rs300/40kg price for cane. “This price can be negotiated and we can take a joint position over the crop’s notified price after consulting our SAB counterparts”, he said.

Sindh’s lower region is known for sugar-cane production. The crop has witnessed losses in this monsoon rainfall. But widespread damages were reported to cotton crop besides rice, onion, chillies and tomatoes. While accumulation of water don’t affect sugar cane but torrential rains do affect it.

Published in Dawn, October 14th, 2020

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