Bountiful crop proves bitter

There seems to be no end to sugarcane farmers' misery in the State who every year face the problem of excess production. The farmers this time have taken to the streets expressing their displeasure with the sugarcane package announced by the government. Karnataka stands fourth in the country in the cultivation of sugarcane but the State is yet to see a sugarcane policy or a scientific basis for fixing the minimum support price. The farmers blame the sugar mills, the factory owners in turn blame the government, the government feels that the mill owners and farmers are both at fault for not coming to a consensus, thus completing the vicious cycle. Elected representatives on their part keep using the sugarcane pricing issue to fuel anger among the farmers (to keep the vote bank intact) but there is no permanent solution to the problem. Deccan Herald presents a lowdown on the state of affairs from the eyes of various stake-holders. The sugar industry in Karnataka can be divided into two groups - unorganised sector which comprises of the producers of the traditional sweeteners such as gur and khandasari and the organised sector which consists of the sugar mills. Farmers' woes: *Dictatorial attitude of sugar mills. Last year a majority of mills refused to implement the statutory minimum price fixed by the government. The State government had directed all co-operative sugar mills to pay farmers Rs 1,200 for a tonne of sugarcane. Except two or three mills, others paid only between Rs 600 and Rs 800 a tonne. *No action was initiated against mills which did not follow the State government directions. *The dues owed to farmers by the mills exceed Rs 160 crore *The recently announced sugarcane package does not solve the problem of growers being offered a low price for their produce or the glut in sugarcane production. * No policy for use of by-products like molasses and bagasse Mill owners' take *The sugar market has fallen. Paying Rs 1,200 per tonne for sugarcane as demanded by farmers is suicidal. * Mills have been accumulating losses. *The recovery (sugar content) is less than 9 per cent compared to 11 pc in other states. Hence rates prevalent in other states cannot be implement . * There is no proper distribution of mills especially in the sugarcane growing belt * No scientific basis for arriving at the minimum support price The way out *A comprehensive sugar policy that spells out the cropping pattern. *Farmers could be allowed to take up production of jaggery on a large-scale to utilise the excess sugarcane. *Govt should announce minimum support price for jaggery at Rs 1,500 a quintal. The present price of Rs 600 a quintal is not remunerative. *Mismanagement of mills need to be curbed.