- Central and State Governments’ interference in the price mechanism of sugarcane is detrimental to the farmers.
- Sugarcane is a long duration, high water and high nutrient-demanding crop.
- It is grown under wide range of climate, ranging from sub-tropical to tropical conditions.
- Temperatures above 50°C and below 20°C are not suitable for its growth.
- For optimum productivity it requires 750-1200 mm of rainfall during its entire growth period.
- Sugarcane is grown extensively in the tropical belt including States of Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Gujarat, as sugar cane, which is a tropical crop, has favourable agro climatic conditions for its growth in these States.
- The yields are substantially higher in the tropical belt as compared to the sub-tropical regions.
Sugarcane Crop Cycle
- Generally, January to march is the period of sowing and December to March is the period of harvesting. After harvest, generally a ratoon crop is cultivated from the re-growth.
- A Ratoon Crop is the new cane which grows from the stubble left behind are harvesting.
- Taking one ratoon after normal planted crop is a common practice in India.
- The crushing season in the country starts from October, when the ratoon crop of previous year’s plantation is harvested, and reaches its peak in January before finally ending in March or April of the next year.
- But based on cane availability, the start of the crushing season may postponed by one to one and a half months in different states of the country.
How is sugarcane different from standard agricultural crops?
- One, unlike wheat or paddy, which can be stored for long after harvesting, sugarcane must be crushed within 24 hours because the sucrose content depletes rapidly post harvest.
As such, it is in the interest of both farmers and millers to have a streamlined process of trade.
- Second difference is regarding the length of the crop cycle.
Depending upon the variety and sowing time it takes about 12 to 18 months for sugarcane to mature. Thus, a sugarcane cropping decision binds a farmer for 20-22 months at a stretch, unlike wheat where the cycle from sowing to reaping lasts just about three-four months.
- Both these factors imply that a sugarcane farmer is even more in need of certainty of prices than an average farmer.
Plight of a sugarcane farmer
- Non-payment of dues by the sugar mills.
- Sugar prices have gone up by 25 per cent over the past six months, but the farmers have not received any incentive for this.
What the Government has done?
- Instead of enforcing the payment of dues to the farmers, the efforts of both the state as well as the Central governments have focused on keeping the sugar prices low by the arbitrary imposition of price ceilings and curbs on stockholding.
- Government has not allowed the markets to smoothen the price fluctuations.
- Irrespective of how the state government fixed the price — either too high or too low in comparison to what would have been a market-determined price — it is the farmers who have suffered. That’s because millers are always unwilling to take a hit or pass the benefit.
- Such efforts are not only ill-directed but also ill-advised since they reduce the incentive and the capacity of farmers to produce sugarcane in future.
What the Government should do?
The state government should allow millers to enter into a contract with farmers under the conditions of a free market, and restrict itself to ensuring the enforcement of such contracts.