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Lockdown side-effect: Sugarcane farmers facing crunch in absence of buyers

Though the state government has declared sugarcane crushing an essential service in the lockdown yet the farmers are worried about their crop, a good quantity of which is still in the fields while the harvest season of wheat has arrived.

Swati Sharma | Meerut |

The lockdown has added to the woes of the sugarcane farmers of the area as the crop which by this time of the year used to be completely harvested and sent to the sugar mills but this year it is still standing in the fields in a considerable proportion of the total yield.

Though the state government has declared sugarcane crushing an essential service in the lockdown yet the farmers are worried about their crop, a good quantity of which is still in the fields while the harvest season of wheat has arrived. Every year, sugarcane crop is harvested and sent to the sugar mills before the harvest of the wheat crop but this year the crushing season has been delayed because of the lockdown due to the spread of Coronavirus.

According to the official sources, sugarcane farming is done in over 3039 lakh hectares of agricultural land by about 5 lakh sugarcane farmers in Meerut division. It feeds 16 sugar mills of six districts of the division, viz Meerut, Baghpat, Hapur, Bulandshahr, Ghaziabad and Noida.

As per the orders from Lucknow, all 16 sugar mills in the six districts of western UP are operational even in the lockdown. The mills have been instructed to run until the last load of the sugarcane crop is reached. Yet the farmers are a desperate lot in view of the prevailing uncertainty.

“In any case we want to supply our crop to the mill before the temperature soars and the beginning of harvesting of wheat crop which is at the onset,” says Mithan Tyagi, a marginal farmer of Village Rehedra of the district. If at all the wheat harvest begins without the entire sugarcane harvest then we would be in a deep trouble. From where will we get the labourers as getting them is already a problem due to the Corona scare, he said adding that if the crop does not end up in the mills then they are hardly left with any options where this could be sold.

Dy Cane Commissioner of Meerut division Rajesh Misra, however, assured the sugarcane farmers that the mills would be operational till the last load of their crop is reached. He asserted that the crushing season is in its full swing and the farmers need not to worry.

But the major issue before the farmers is that of the demand raised by the sugar mills. In fact, slips called ‘Parchi’ which the cane society sends to the growers according to the requirement of the mills are issued in less numbers. “If this continues the plight of the farmers could not be stopped,” says Devendra Tyagi, former Pradhan of Rehedra Village. He says that even if the crushing season extends to the mid of the month of May the sugarcane is not likely to be taken up by the mills completely at the pace they are presently issuing the parchis.

Dharmendra Malik, a state spokesperson of Bhartiya Kisan Union (BKU), who himself is a sugarcane farmer also expressed similar views saying that 25 to 30 percent crop is still standing in the field due to the less supply of parchis.

He said that the farmers are already in trouble while the government is not taking any initiative to give relief to them. The sugarcane dues in UP are now more than Rs 12,000 crore and now things are worsening due to the slow pace of the working of the sugar mills in this crushing season.

“While the sugar mills are accepting a lot of crop at a snail’s pace due to lockdown the farmers are not able to deliver it to the Kohlus (places where sugarcane is crushed to produce jaggery and jaggery powder). Kohlus are local units where the farmers sell their sugarcane crop which is their surplus left from the mills.

But more than 50 percent Kohlus are closed this time due to the lockdown, said Malik adding that those which are functional are giving a very low price from Rs 150 to Rs 200 per quintal while they get Rs 325 per quintal from the mills.

The other place where sugar cane is consumed is local sugarcane juice sellers but they too hardly offer any price and the quantity consumed here is also very less. Besides, in view of the lockdown, not many juice sellers would be in a position to buy sugarcane, claimed Malik.

The fact remains that a good percentage of crop of the farmers is still not harvested. Manoj Malik, pradhan of village Paswara, is also in a similar situation. He said that his crop in over 1.5 acres of area is still intact and the supply from village’s two weighing centers is irregular. This situation is being faced by most of the sugarcane farmers, he averred.

Virendra Sharma, a farmer from Maghadma Village in Bulandshahr district too is sailing in the same boat. Sharma’s more than 35 % crop is still in the field. “In case the crop is not consumed in the mill we would leave it to dry and use it as a fuel as this would be the last resort,” he quipped.

Sanjay Rastogi, Vice-President of Daurala Sugar Mill, however, assured the farmers that the mill would be functional until they receive the last lot of the sugarcane. Over 5 lakh sugarcane growers in 135 villages of the area provide sugar cane to the Daurala Sugar Mill. These farmers are associated with Daurala Sahkari Ganna Vikas Samiti Ltd which provides parchis against the requirement of Daurala Sugar Mill.

Pradeep Yadav, secretary of the Samiti told that Daurala Sugar Mill has crushed approximately 1.80 crore quintal against its target of 2.20 crore quintal and the mill would continue crushing until the last load. He also ridiculed the charges of less delivery of parchis and explained that they are doing it without any partiality and the procedure is fair and randomised.

Rastogi too highlighted the problems of the sugar mills and said that the stock of sugar is increasing and they are facing problems of storage. In view of the lockdown, the supply of sugar in the industrial sector is at a standstill as a result of which the mills have no other option but to stock the sugar.