CULTIVATION of early maturing varieties of sugarcane with better per acre yield is needed because of growing water shortage. Sindh, being at the tail end of Indus River system, is quite often hit by water shortages. This necessitates developing suitable cane varieties through intensive research.Cane needs 67 inches of irrigation water till its harvest. The water that otherwise should have gone to irrigate wheat fields is diverted to preserve cane crop. Sugarcane's average per acre yield is said to be around 500 maunds per acre while few progressive growers have obtained up to 800- 1100 maunds. Sugarcane is grown in September-October but harvesting is delayed to 16-17 months particularly due to the running price tussle between sugar mills and growers.
Growers feel that production of cotton is affected by sugarcane. Pakistan, area wise, ranks fourth among 105 sugarcane growing countries, 14th in production and 60th in yield. The per acre sugar recovery rate is unimpressive.
Cane is grown on 2.8-3 million acres in Pakistan, and covers five per cent of total cropped area. It consumes 10.5MAF out of the total available 103MAF water. In Sindh it is sown on 0.6 million acres.
Growers in Sindh agree that average yield of 800 maunds per acre is achievable. Instances are there where 900 to 1,100 maunds per acre were obtained in Sindh. Figures of Pakistan Sugar Mills Association (PSMA) show maximum sucrose recovery of 9.46 per cent against average recovery of 8.8 per cent during 1994-1995 to 2008-09.
Abdul Majeed Nizamani, President Sindh Abadgar Board, who has analysed sugarcane production and related issues closely, is of the opinion that intensive research is essential to improve per acre sugar recovery besides yield.
“We can get average per acre yield of 800 maunds instead of 500. With this yield per acre recovery of sugar will come to 3.12 tons, giving, average sugar recovery of 9.79 per cent. Sindh and Punjab have touched 9.56 per cent mark in 2008-09,” he adds. Under such situation, he says, per annum sugar production of six million tons â€“ higher by 1.5 million tons against requirement of 4.5 million tons â€“ can be achieved for export purposes. The increased per acre yield of cane will also cut the cost of its production.
The increase in per acre yield can help reduce the acreage currently under cane cultivation. The land under cane can be reduced to 1.9 million acres from the present 2.8-3 million acres and the surplus land can be utilised for cotton cultivation.
On the other hand, he says, water use will be minimized. Research on sugarcane can ensure that crop is grown in February which matures within nine to 10 months when crushing commences, he asserts.
The existing 84 sugar mills in the country have the capacity to produce eight million tons of sugar. More sugar mills are in the pipeline and one is being set-up in Matli, Badin district.
Continuous cultivation of sugarcane is harmful for land's fertility and agriculturists contend that either pattern of crop cultivation should be changed or the land should be given rest for some time.
“I got 2,400 maunds per acre in 1988,” claims Haji Nadeem Shah, a progressive grower of Matiari. He laments that agriculture department has failed to provide technological know how to growers to enhance yield per acre.
Sindh Abadgar Board general secretary Mehmood Nawaz Shah says that mills do not apply core sampler to determine quantum of sucrose in sugarcane.
He concedes that variety of cane like Thatta-10 which gives more sucrose content must be promoted by millers and prices for fine quality cane should be more than the indicative price offered as incentive for growers.
Agriculture (research) department has introduced Q-88 variety last year which has a potential of 1500-1600 maunds of cane per acre. It is also working on tissue culture to ensure disease-free plant.
According to DG agriculture research Hidayatullah Chajro, reducing crop duration might affect recovery of sugar. “We are working on germ-plasm to reduce number of irrigation water supplies to cane crop so that water scarcity issue can be addressed,” he says. He points out that another variety 'Chandka' is suitable for upper Sindh growers with a potential of 1,800 maunds per acre. He blames growers for not using proper inputs and management techniques.
But Mehmood Nawaz Shah strongly disputes DG's statement. He describes it a hollow claim as generally growers are not aware of these varieties except for traditional 237, 234 and Thatta-10. “We are using our land resources simply.
What we can get out of two acres, we are using four acres for the purpose and it is incompetence of research wing that doesn't come up with proper research. There should be more varieties with better sucrose content”, he says.