HYDERABAD: Almost all sugar mills have started cane crushing for the 2020-21 season in Sindh amidst complaints that growers are holding the crop and not supplying it to sugar mills, which are incurring losses.

Growers’ bodies like the Sindh Abadgar Board (SAB) acknowledged that crushing was continuing and 30pc of sugar cane had already been harvested. It claimed that sugar mills’ yards were packed with cane stocks. Disagreeing with millers’ complaint that cane was not being supplied, SAB also claimed that farmers were getting Rs250 per 40kg on an average -- a price higher than the official rate.

The Sindh government has notified the cane procurement price as Rs202 per 40kg.

Around 31 out of the total 38 sugar mills in Sindh have started cane crushing. Those who have not started the process as yet are either facing some sort of litigation or issues of technical nature or closure of mills due to multiple reasons.

Sindh had missed sugar cane’s sowing target by around 8pc this year. The crop was grown on 288,000ha against the target of 310,000ha. In 2019-20 season also, the target was missed by 7.7pc.

Pakistan Sugar Mills Association (PSMA) Sindh zone chairman Ahmed Bawani claimed that millers were facing trouble in many areas as sugar cane growers were withholding supplies “with the result that we are burning fuel and incurring losses”.

He also claimed that by mid-November all sugar factories had started crushing – a claim that could not be independently verified for the time being. “Government forced us to start crushing and a couple of mills had started cane crushing by October 20,” he said.

Mr Bawani contended that millers were producing sugar for Rs95 a kilo as the ex-mill price and currently sugar’s retailer price was Rs85 a kilo. “No sugar factory has liabilities of farmers this year,” he further claimed.

PSMA is also said to have written to Sindh cane commissioner in mid-December urging him to intervene and ensure that sugar mills get proper supplies to meet their cost of production.

SAB vice president Mahmood Nawaz Shah strongly differs with him, saying that given the installed capacity of sugar mills in Sindh, 60pc of sugarcane crop could be made available to them in any crop season.

“SAB was asked by cane commissioner to look into no sugar cane supply situation but we argued that some particular cases may be identified where cane was not being supplied to those mills which don’t owe any liability of farmers of the area,” he said.

Mr Shah said that mills’ yards were filled with sugar cane stocks and in many cases sugar cane was lying in the field which was to be supplied to mills.

“Logically speaking, a grower can’t hold sugar cane crop after nurturing it for 12 months in the field. We have reports that cane laden trolleys returned after two days from some mills and this indicates that sugar cane supply is aplenty,” he said while referring to the rejoinder he had sent to the Sindh cane commissioner.

He said that on an average, Rs250/40 kg was being paid to sugar cane growers in Sindh otherwise a rate as high as Rs290 to Rs300 was also paid by millers. He feared that in the next few months, sweetener’s price might again be jacked up to Rs100 a kilo in the retail market.

Sindh Chamber of Agriculture (SCA) general secretary Zahid Bhurgari confirmed that he had harvested his cane crop on 24 acres and got a price of up to Rs290/40 kg. But the average price, he said, would come to around Rs270/40kg.

Mr Bawani is of the view that government should always ensure that crushing starts when sucrose recovery prospects are better in sugar cane. Haphazard commencement of crushing season puts millers at a disadvantageous position, he says.

Published in Dawn, January 5th, 2021

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