Sugarcane growers in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa are getting worried that their crop is ready to be harvested, but there is little activity at the potential buyers’ end to buy their produce. They fear losing money.
“An organised and influential lobby is at work again,” claims sugarcane grower General Secretary of Kissan Board, Samad Saafi in Mardan, a major sugarcane growing district in central KP. Sentiments among growers in Dera Ismail Khan, a southern KP district with vast area under sugarcane cultivation, are no different.
“The delay is intentional, it is an attempt to create problems for us in the next few months,” says Sheikh Moazzam Kamran, President, Aiwan-e-Zaraat (Chamber of Agriculture), Dera Ismail Khan.
Kamran has cultivated sugarcane on 120 acres. The crop, he explains, was ready to be harvested more than two weeks ago, but he could not find a buyer. “I cannot start harvesting the crop unless I get purchasing orders from mills or the commission agents operating in the local market,” laments Kamran.
According to growers, sugar mills are legally bound to start their milling operations from November 1 every year or at the latest by November 15. However, the mills never follow these dates, complain farmers.
“Mills start cane crushing by the end of the third or even the fourth week of November every year,” says Saafi, adding, “They don’t even operate their mills at full capcity, much to the disadvantage of the farmers”.
Kamran concurs with this and insists that mills should lift the crop as soon as it is ready to be harvested. The delay in disposing the crop increases the growers’ costs and lowers the profits.
“Last year, growers in Mardan lost Rs 25,000 per acre because of the mills’ delaying tactics,” claims Saafi.
They are all the more worried because the longer sugarcane stands in the field, the more it loses weight, and they will have to sell it at reduced price, which benefits the mills. Moreover, since the land is still in use, they cannot prepare it for the next crop, and the sowing gets delayed.
According to Kamran he maintained a workforce of 10 to 15 labourers during the five month harvesting season. “I will have to pay them Rs4000 to Rs5000 per month per person even though I will be selling my produce in December or January,” he says. Eventually, the financial interest of thousands of small farmers is at stake since a large area has once again been cultivated with sugarcane this year. On average, around 100,000 hectares come under sugarcane cultivation in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa annually. The province produces about 4.5 million tonnes of the crop on annual basis.
Growers also complain that while cost of cultivating sugarcane has risen during the previous two years, the officially fixed price of their crop had not been raised on proportionate basis. According to farmers, the government is reluctant to raise the price because it fears the impact it will have on the sugar prices charged to the end consumers.
Last year, the government fixed sugarcane’s price at Rs170 per 40 kilogrammes, which, according to Saafi, was less than the price paid to farmers in 2011. He says the price of sugarcane should be raised this year in proportion to the growth recorded by prices of agricultural inputs over the years. “Price of diesel, for example, has been increasing without any letup,” he adds.
Kamran insists that the price of per 40 kg price of sugarcane should not be less than Rs225 this year in view of the overall price hike and inflation. Giving his example, he said he had invested a lot of money during the past one year along with a lot of effort and time and deserves reasonable profit.
“I cultivated the crop from August 22 to September 20, watered the crop area 17 times, and I will need to water the remaining standing crop for at least six more times in the next five months till I manage to sell off the entire produce by March next year,” he says.
The province has seven sugar mills, including four in Dera Ismail Khan and three in the central Pakhtunkhwa.dawn
Sugarcane, Agriculture in Pakistan,