Good yield spells trouble for sugarcane growers

MULTAN –  The sugarcane crisis in South Punjab has further worsened as the growers threatened on Thursday to commit suicides and burn their standing crops as protest against what they described as their exploitation at the hands of sugar mill owners and government’s failure to ensure sugarcane procurement at Rs180 per 40kg, the support price fixed by the government.

Talking to The Nation during a survey, the sugarcane growers from Multan, Rahim Yar Khan, Muzaffargarh and Layyah districts pointed out although the government announced Rs180 per 40kg support price for sugarcane, the mill owners purchased the yield at Rs120 per 40kg but no action could be taken against the influential industrialists.

“I have 10 acre land and I sowed sugarcane on it in a hope to earn some profit. Instead I am under heavy debt,” lamented Muhammad Ramzan, a sugarcane grower from Layyah, while talking to this scribe. He alleged that both the government and the sugar mill owners have an alliance and they forced the sugarcane growers to sell their produce at a throwaway price. The sugarcane sowing in Punjab has increased by 10.9 percent this season compared to last year due to recent cotton crisis and it was sowed over 2,131,000 acres of land. The agriculture department expected a good crop due to favourable weather conditions and estimated that the province would produce over 56,074,000 tonnes this year. Statistics from agriculture department show that in just three divisions — Multan, Dera Ghazi Khan and Bahawalpur—of South Punjab region, sugarcane is sown over 940,000 acres of land and the estimate of crop stands at 28,858,000 tonnes.

The good yield, however, has become a trouble for the growers. Another small grower from Multan namely Arsalan Khan disclosed that he had spent a total of Rs500,000 on his crop sown on five acres he had acquired on lease. “The average expense on each acre stands at Rs100,000 while what we are getting back from the buyers is merely Rs50,000. They are fleecing us in broad daylight but there is no action against them,” he added. He further pointed out that even the growers, who considered them the lucky ones for their success in selling our their produce, were not given cash and instead issued either Cane Procurement Receipts (CPRs) or bank cheques.

President of Pakistan Kissan Ittehad (PKI), Chaudhry Anwar, warned that the situation is fast heading towards a serious chaos. “Thousands of poor farmers have become literally bankrupt in South Punjab. They got loans and sowed sugarcane in a hope to earn some profit but the sugar mill owners have stopped purchase. They are at a do or die stage now,” he claimed. He said that neither the farmers could pay off their loans nor were able to sow next crop due to shortage of money. “If the same situation persists, the farmers will place sugarcane at every road, block all highways and burn their produce besides laying siege to all sugar mills in Punjab,” he warned.

During the survey, long queues of trolleys loaded with sugarcane were seen outside all sugar mills in different areas of South Punjab. “I am here with my sugarcane-loaded trolleys for the last seven days. We’re sitting under open sky in freezing temperature but no one from the mill is there to talk to us,” claimed Allah Yar, a sugarcane grower, while sitting outside a mill in Rahim Yar Khan.

“You can see some persons who are continuously going in and coming out of the mill. These middlemen insist us to sell out our yield at Rs120 per 40kg. If I say yes, my sugarcane will be purchased instantly and if I insist, as I do, to sell it at the rate announced by the government, I am asked to wait for months,” he added.

Another sugarcane grower pointed out the purchase staff at all the mills applied another tactic to fleece the poor growers. “They apply deduction rule every time they weigh a vehicle loaded with sugarcane. At least 30 to 60 maunds (1200 to 2400kg) is deducted from the total weight of sugarcane under this method,” he further explained.  He lamented that although it was clearly mentioned in the Sugarcane Act that deduction was a crime, it was being committed in broad daylight but no action was taken against them so far.

Highly irked on the exploitation by the sugar mills, a sugarcane grower in Qasoor district set entire of his crop ablaze and jumped into it as a protest a few days back. The news succeeded in drawing attention of Punjab Chief Minister Shehbaz Sharif who held a meeting last Sunday and issued order for the purchase of sugarcane at Rs180 per 40kg from farmers. “We’ll do the digital monitoring of the payment process to keep eye on the mill-owners. We’ll take strict action against them if they deny full payment to the farmers of their produce,” the CM told media before leaving for Saudi Arabia.

In his statement, the President of Sugar Mills Association, Javed Kayani, also said that the association would ensure implementation of decisions regarding payments to sugarcane growers.

However, the farmers representatives insist that despite assurances from the government and the Sugar Mills Association, the situation is still the same. “Out of 26 mills in Sindh, at least 19 are owned by PPP co-chairman Asif Ali Zardari and of 46 in Punjab, at least 35 are owned by the members of government or opposition. How can any government go against them?” Ch Anwar, PKI President, posed a question. He proposed to the government to allow installation of mini sugar mills in the country to resolve this issue. “This solution will settle all issues as it will end the monopoly of mill mafia. This experiment has been very successful in India,” he added.




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