Sugar beet cultivation need of the hour

Encouraging sugar beet cultivation

By Tahir Ali
Monday, 08 Nov, 2010

DAWN.COM | Economic & Business | Encouraging sugar beet cultivation.

IN the wake of irrigation water shortage and declining cane yield, sugar beet cultivation offers a substitute as it requires less water, matures earlier, is less susceptible to diseases and gives higher per hectare sugar yield than cane, officials and farmers say.

Sugar beet is used as a vegetable and its pulp as animal fodder in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. The crop also has helped run sugar mills that usually faced cane shortage when farmers preferred to make gur of the cane.

Sugar beet was an important cash crop in KP, especially in the districts of Mardan and Swabi in the past but the crop has suffered for lack of incentives.

There are no official figures available on sugar beet acreage and yield in KP, but sources say it has come down to around a few thousand acres as against hundreds of thousands in the past.

“In not so distant past, the sugar-mills in Khazana, Charsadda, Takht Bhai and Mardan were crushing sugar beet. But the first three mills have now stopped crushing beet. Only Mardan Sugar Mill is crushing the crop and providing sugar beet seeds to farmers,” said Haji Niamat Shah Roghani, senior vice-president of Anjuman-e-Kashtkaran, KP.

With high cost of per acre yield, closure of beet-processing plants coupled with low returns by mills, farmers gradually lost interest in sowing beat. It is time the government encourages millers to increase beet price to attract farmers to grow the crop.

The sugar millers are reluctant to invest in beet processing plants because of non-availability of raw material, fuel shortage and lack of expertise and technology. There is a need for the government to offer incentives to the mills.

“The federal government must waive all duties and taxes on sugar made from beet. This would enable mills to pay lucrative prices to the farmers for their crop, said Shah.

“Agriculture research institute in KP should develop quality beet seeds for different climate areas of the province. Increase in acreage and per hectare yield of beat will result in more sugar yield and increase farmers’ income. It can also provide livelihood to thousands of daily wage earners who are laid off after cane crushing season is over as beet crushing soon starts after cane.

If billions of rupees can be spent on sugar imports, why not a few hundred millions on reviving the sugar beet crop,” he asked.

‘There is a need to devise a sugar beet development policy with incentives like duty-free import of both new and second hand sugar beet plants, provision of beet seeds, easy access to soft loans and tax exemptions.”

The government should encourage farmers to first sow beet on trial basis by offering them free farm-inputs and crop insurance to build their confidence in the crop,” he said.

The National Sugar Policy 2009 says sugar production from beet would be encouraged as a small and medium enterprise activity. “This shall be given incentive through fiscal measures under supervision of ministry of agriculture (Minfa).”

The provincial governments should encourage the requisite technology shift for the existing mills from cane to beet and consider setting up new sugar beet mills,” it reads.

“Because of non-availability of bagasse, the processing of beet is economical together with sugarcane but not alone. It has high cost of sugar production that would further raise sugar prices by Rs5-6 per kg. The cost can be reduced if local coal is used for the purpose. Again, Pakistan would have to raise cultivation and productivity of sugar beet to ensure its consistent supply to mills and increase crushing capacity of sugar mills up to 2,000-2,500 tons. The costs can also be compensated through its by-products – beet pulp and molasses,” opined Shah.

“Minfa has already suggested that Pakistan should enter into the area of production of industrial alcohol and gasohol. Converting molasses into industrial alcohol is what needs to be done sooner rather than later” said the official.

Sugarcane is high delta crop that requires about 15 million acres feet of water. If it is replaced by sugar beet, it would save half of that water. Sugar beet is useful for being a low delta crop and occupies land for 4-5 months as against 10-14 months by sugarcane.

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About Tahir Ali Khan
I am an academic, freelance columnist, writer and a social worker.

One Response to Sugar beet cultivation need of the hour

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