HYDERABAD: Sugar cane growers and mill owners appear to be inching closer to an agreement on rate for 2021-22 cane crop as the producers demand Rs250 per 40kg whereas the millers have hinted at 10 per cent increase in last year’s cane price of Rs202 per 40kg, which translates into Rs222 per 40kg.

A meeting was chaired by adviser to Sindh chief minister on agriculture Manzoor Wassan in Karachi for fixation of the crop’s rate on Wednesday where the two sides shared their viewpoint over the cane rate. However, the price has not yet been announced by the agriculture department.

It was for the first time in recent past that the meeting for discussing the cane price was held in mid-September. Usually, it was held in October as happened last year while notification for sugar cane rate was issued after crushing season had already commenced.

The cane producers have demanded a rate of Rs250 per 40kg for this season’s crop whereas the millers have hinted at 10pc increase in last year’s sugar cane rate of Rs202 per 40kg, which means that millers are willing to pay Rs222 per 40kg to farmers.

This year, the sugar cane acreage was reportedly 295,000 hectares against a target of 310,000ha. Last year’s acreage was 286,000ha, according to Sindh agriculture director general, Hidayatullah Chhajro.

“I think recent rainfall has benefitted the cane crop and better yield is expected although sowing target has been missed by 15,000ha or so,” he said.

Sugar millers are required to commence crushing no later than Nov 30 and growers like Sindh Chamber of Agriculture (SCA) vice president Nabi Bux Sathio has urged the adviser to notify crushing date between Nov 1 and 7.

He told Dawn that the millers were told that if they paid inadequate price then growers would certainly delay harvesting the crop and it would ultimately lead to a competition among mill owners.

“Last year’s rate was Rs202 per 40kg but I got Rs370 per 40kg for late supply of my crop and it showed the millers could pay such a rate,” he said.

He said that factory owners had hinted at increasing the price by 10pc which meant a raise of Rs22 per 40kg this year that would take the crop’s price to Rs222 while the growers had pressed for the rate of Rs250 per 40kg given current retail and ex-mill price of the sweetener. Sugar was being sold today for Rs100 to Rs102 in market, he said.

Sindh Abadgar Board (SAB) vice president Mahmood Nawaz Shah said that it was indeed a positive development that the meeting was held in mid-September. “We have told the minister that growers’ bodies have submitted their demand for sugar cane price and the millers have also hinted at the likely raise in cane’s rate, therefore, it is now up to the government to come up with a price notification,” he said.

The adviser told the meeting that since the two sides had presented their demands for the cane price he would discuss it with the government and convene another meeting between the stakeholders if it was needed.

Shah said that according to his assessment this year’s cane crop was up by seven to eight per cent, hence no fears of the crop’s shortage. However, an agriculture officer differed with his assessment and claimed the crop was seven to eight per cent less than that of last year.

SCA’s Sathio said that last year millers were willing to pay Rs190 per 40kg in Sindh on the ground that ex-mill price of sugar was Rs60 to Rs70 a kilo. But, he said, Punjab government issued a price notification of Rs200 per 40kg, prompting Sindh to fix the rate at Rs202.

Sindh’s sugar cane rate was usually one or two rupees higher than Punjab’s on the basis of better sucrose recovery content in Sindh’s cane when compared with that of Punjab.

Sugar millers and growers lock horns over the cane price every cane season but when the millers find it hard to receive required supplies of cane to meet their crushing capacity needs they threaten to suspend crushing.

The millers also start offering more price than what is fixed by the government after they anticipate raise in sugar price in later months. The consumers, however, remain at the receiving end.

The millers are no longer legally bound to start crushing by October in the wake of amendment to the Sugar Factories Control Act in 2009. With this amendment they start crushing by the end of November or early December.

Published in Dawn, September 17th, 2021

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