Under performing sugar crops research institute

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Sugarcane research in a shambles
By Tahir Ali Khan
August 29, 2011

http://www.dawn.com/2011/08/29/agriculture-and-technology-sugarcane-research-in-a-shambles.html

KHYBER Pakhtunkhwa’s Sugar Crop Research Institute in Mardan is handicapped for paucity of funds, shortage of research staff and meagre seed production capacity, according to its officials.

“About 80 per cent of our limited budget is consumed by wage-bill and the rest is spent mainly on land preparation, cultivation and harvesting at the SCRI and two other research stations at Harichand and Dargai. There is virtually nothing left for research and development work,” said Sartaj Ali, farm manager at the SCRI.

While there are no funds for purchasing new equipment and machinery, load-shedding and low voltage often damage the precious equipment installed in early 1990s.

The institute is spread over 96 acres. One-third of the 70 acres available for cultivation is kept fallow while the rest is under cane cultivation. “But only 15 acres are under seed multiplication that produce around 440 tons of quality cane-seeds. This is clearly insufficient for the province. And in its subsidiary, Harichand farm too, 10 of 20 acres available for cane-seed multiplication remains unused for want of funds,” he said.

“The SCRI has developed 22 cane varieties so far. Some of these varieties have increased yield and income of farmers.

“Sugarcane farmers in 75 per cent areas grow CP77/400, a seed variety developed by SCRI. Sugarcane requires abundant water, more than required by rice crop. So we have developed SPSG-394, Mardan 92, and NCO310 as well for water stress areas. Most of these varieties have 12 per cent of sugar recovery ratio, the highest at world level,” he added.

“We are trying to bridge the huge gap between yields of farmers, institute and progressive farmers. While our average yield at the SCRI is about 32-36 tons, progressive farmers obtain around 40 tons per acre while per acre yield of common farmers is not more than 16-20 tons,” he said. “Their efforts in this regard have failed due to weak extension service and liaison with farmers as a result of shortage of staff and resources at our end and ignorance and lack of cooperation and coordination at the farmers’ side,” he added.

The staff shortage has also undermined the research work at the SCRI. Lack of service structure and opportunities for promotion as well as poor remuneration have discouraged many a talented people to join as research officers and encouraged the existing ones to leave for lucrative offers elsewhere.

“Over half of the 20 research officers’ slots are lying vacant. Country-wise, the situation is even worse. Over 260 of the 350 research officers in the SCRIs countrywide have left. Another problem is that 60 per cent of the existing research officers, recruited in 1973-74, are retiring in the next three to four years. There is no replacement for them in sight, he said.

Responding to a question on the causes of low cane yield, Ali said: “Most farmers resort to intercropping of wheat and cane which reduces output. Most of the farmers use less than the recommended four tons seed per acre, resulting in less plant population. They also do not use enough fertiliser and pesticides. Moreover, they still grow old varieties and delay cultivation and harvesting of cane for better prices.

Regular watering, inconsistent rains and abundant poplar trees around field also reduce yield and cause termites problems as well. Another issue is that of small landholding. Land fragmentation reduces cropped areas and compels farmers to do inter-cropping and makes commercial and mechanised farming impossible,” he added.

“Farmers should grow early cane varieties (CP72/2086, CP80/1827, Mardan93 and CP85/1491) as these mature in September/October and provide better sugar recovery (12 per cent) and price, an opportunity to cultivate wheat in time and save ratoons from frost and cold,” he added.

According to him, globally, education, research and extension are looked after by the universities. “In Pakistan too from 1982 till 2006, research work was the responsibility of universities. This expedited the process of sanctioning the project. But in 2006-07, during the previous MMA government, research was handed over to the department, not a good decision,” he said.

“The agriculture department has launched Rs30 million project for sugarcane seed production through chip buds, chip nodes and standardisation of technology in KP but it needs to be speedily and effectively implemented.”

Mills raise cane rates to ensure supplies

Mills raise cane rates to ensure supplies.

Mills raise cane rates to ensure supplies

By Tahir Ali Khan

THE supply of sugarcane to mills in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa has picked up following fall in gur prices and improved rates being offered by sugar mills.

Gur prices plunged to Rs5,000-5,500 per 80 kg in local markets from Rs6,000-6,500 last month and Rs7,500-8,500 last October. This has prompted farmers to take their crop to millers who are offering better prices these days.

The price offered by mills is Rs338 per 50 kg of cane. But farmers Farmani Gul Khan argue that on the basis of recent gur prices this season, it should be around Rs450 for 50kg.

Since 2007, gur has been costlier than sugar.But it has lost its place of being the first priority of farmers in the province. For example with a crop of 300 maunds, a farmer will earn around Rs83,000 if he opts for gur, and over Rs100,000 if he takes it to mills, says mill owners.

Cane manager at the Premier sugar mills in Mardan Masood Khan says increase price offer has augmented supplies to the mills. “The cane supply situation improved in February and we are crushing around 3,000 tons of cane daily, approaching fast to our peak crushing of 4,000 tons achieved some years ago. We are running the mills non-stop. Gur is our main competitor. If its prices come down, farmers will come to us and vice versa. But for the moment, we are satisfied. Cane supply to mills in Dera Ismail Khan and Charsadda has also improved a lot,” he said.

Why do growers often prefer gur making? “The gur agents make advance agreements to farmers, and payments are made for standing crops. They provide seasonal/crop-based loans to growers which are used for buying inputs and meeting their domestic needs. How could farmers sell their cane crop to mills in this situation?” asks Jehangir Khan, a farmer.

“The millers, conversely, wait for farmers to bring their crop to the mills which they have already pledged to gur agents against return of advance payments or easy loans. Cane crop is also bought by cane-juice-sellers on advance payments. The millers should make agreements with cane farmers as is done in case of tobacco crop. They should purchase cane crop at fixed and better rates. Why can’t they make advance payments or provide loans to farmers like their competitors at the start of the season?” he asks.

Jehangir said farmers at present had to go to mills to get indents for their cane and suggested that it should be the other way round. “They need to reach farmers like their gur competitors. The millers in the past had opened local cane purchase/dumping centres. The farmers would bring their produce to these centres and the millers would pick it from there. This needs to be revived,” he suggests.

“Besides a fixed price for certain fixed sugar-content, farmers should get enhanced payment for produce with better sugar-content. This will be an incentive for them,” he maintains.

“In Punjab a large quantity of gur, named duplicate is being produced by mixing gur with glucose and other ingredients. It has not only a good look but also tastes better and is cheaper.

Around 100kg of duplicate is prepared in an hour. Farmers in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa are also planning to start producing this variety.

This means that more and more cane will be used for making gur in future. Millers will have to be more responsive and competitive to avoid this scenario,” Yousaf Shah, another farmer, adds.

“Farmers opt for gur making for two other reasons as well. One: they have to feed their livestock with cane-grass which necessitates intermittent cutting of crop as allowed by gur manufacturers and not simultaneous harvesting of the entire crop as needed by mills. Two: they use gur in their homes which they make even if they take bulk of their crop to mills. This can be avoided by providing fodder seeds and supplying farmers with sugar on deferred payment,” says Shah.

Khyber Pakhtunkhwa produces about 1.3 million tons of sugarcane. It can produce up to 0.1 million tons of sugar if cane supply to mills is improved.

But the problem is that the area under cane cannot be increased because of its competition with wheat or maize and water shortage. “Investment in research for high-yielding cane varieties and increasing per acre yield with better sugar content is the need of the hour. Millers should also help, ” Jehangir argues.

Improving cane-supply to mills

Mills raise cane rates to ensure supplies

By Tahir Ali Khan 

THE supply of sugarcane to mills in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa has picked up following fall in gur prices and improved rates being offered by sugar mills.

Gur prices plunged to Rs5,000-5,500 per 80 kg in local markets from Rs6,000-6,500 last month and Rs7,500-8,500 last October. This has prompted farmers to take their crop to millers who are offering better prices these days.

The price offered by mills is Rs338 per 50 kg of cane. But farmers Farmani Gul Khan argue that on the basis of recent gur prices this season, it should be around Rs450 for 50kg.

Since 2007, gur has been costlier than sugar.But it has lost its place of being the first priority of farmers in the province. For example with a crop of 300 maunds, a farmer will earn around Rs83,000 if he opts for gur, and over Rs100,000 if he takes it to mills, says mill owners.

Cane manager at the Premier sugar mills in Mardan Masood Khan says increase price offer has augmented supplies to the mills. “The cane supply situation improved in February and we are crushing around 3,000 tons of cane daily, approaching fast to our peak crushing of 4,000 tons achieved some years ago. We are running the mills non-stop. Gur is our main competitor. If its prices come down, farmers will come to us and vice versa. But for the moment, we are satisfied. Cane supply to mills in Dera Ismail Khan and Charsadda has also improved a lot,” he said.

Why do growers often prefer gur making? “The gur agents make advance agreements to farmers, and payments are made for standing crops. They provide seasonal/crop-based loans to growers which are used for buying inputs and meeting their domestic needs. How could farmers sell their cane crop to mills in this situation?” asks Jehangir Khan, a farmer.

“The millers, conversely, wait for farmers to bring their crop to the mills which they have already pledged to gur agents against return of advance payments or easy loans. Cane crop is also bought by cane-juice-sellers on advance payments. The millers should make agreements with cane farmers as is done in case of tobacco crop. They should purchase cane crop at fixed and better rates. Why can’t they make advance payments or provide loans to farmers like their competitors at the start of the season?” he asks.

Jehangir said farmers at present had to go to mills to get indents for their cane and suggested that it should be the other way round. “They need to reach farmers like their gur competitors. The millers in the past had opened local cane purchase/dumping centres. The farmers would bring their produce to these centres and the millers would pick it from there. This needs to be revived,” he suggests.

“Besides a fixed price for certain fixed sugar-content, farmers should get enhanced payment for produce with better sugar-content. This will be an incentive for them,” he maintains.

“In Punjab a large quantity of gur, named duplicate is being produced by mixing gur with glucose and other ingredients. It has not only a good look but also tastes better and is cheaper.

Around 100kg of duplicate is prepared in an hour. Farmers in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa are also planning to start producing this variety.

This means that more and more cane will be used for making gur in future. Millers will have to be more responsive and competitive to avoid this scenario,” Yousaf Shah, another farmer, adds.

“Farmers opt for gur making for two other reasons as well. One: they have to feed their livestock with cane-grass which necessitates intermittent cutting of crop as allowed by gur manufacturers and not simultaneous harvesting of the entire crop as needed by mills. Two: they use gur in their homes which they make even if they take bulk of their crop to mills. This can be avoided by providing fodder seeds and supplying farmers with sugar on deferred payment,” says Shah.

Khyber Pakhtunkhwa produces about 1.3 million tons of sugarcane. It can produce up to 0.1 million tons of sugar if cane supply to mills is improved.

But the problem is that the area under cane cannot be increased because of its competition with wheat or maize and water shortage. “Investment in research for high-yielding cane varieties and increasing per acre yield with better sugar content is the need of the hour. Millers should also help, ” Jehangir argues.

Low Sugarcane to mills

Raw (unrefined, unbleached) sugar, bought at t...

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Mills facing cane shortage

Dec 13 2010

By Tahir Ali

IT is not a good sight that the yard of Asia’s biggest sugar mill –the Premier Sugar Mill, Mardan— and roads surrounding it, that would have mile-long queue of cane-carrying trolleys and trucks a few years ago, has only a few of them. The mill is  getting a paltry supply of cane.

Officials at the PSM say they increased the price of cane and ensured prompt payment, expecting that the two measures would improve cane supply position to the mill but the growers did not respond.

They maintain that the PSM increased cane price from support price of Rs125 to Rs240 per 40kg to receive better supplies.

Masood Khan, cane manager at the PSM, said increase in cane price had not boosted supply of cane to the mill as expected. “Farmers wanted prompt payment and good returns on the crop. We have increased the price and are paying them within three days. But still the supply is not enough to run the mill.

He said: “We are running the mill intermittently for 8-10 hours a day or even after a break of a day so that enough stock is accumulated for crushing.”

“Our cost of production per kilo has increased to Rs75-78, which means sugar should be sold at Rs80-85 per kg. However, the prices are coming down, making the position of mills unstable,” he added.

According to him, less supply of cane means intermittent running of mills, which increases cost of production, especially in the event of higher prices to farmers, high wages offered to employees, burgeoning fuel prices and various taxes.

“Conversely, gur has no such taxes and burdens. Why won’t it compete with us? Its prices have increased tremendously and it is sold around Rs80-90 a kilo. To enable us to compete with it, we must be given subsidised fuel, power and relief in taxes. Or else gur making should be banned altogether,” he argued.

Haji Niamat Shah, senior vice president of Anjuman-e-Kashtkaran, Khyber Paktunkhwa, also said the government should announce a relief package and a rebate in taxes for Khyber Pakhtunkhwa sugar industry.

Abdur Rasheed, another official at the PSM, said the mill would daily crush around 100,000 maunds of cane five years ago but it was crushing only 20 per cent of the quantity these days.

Welcoming increase in cane price, Shah hoped farmers would grow more cane next year. Increased price would ensure the pledged and continuous crushing at the mills producing more sugar, save jobs of thousands of mill employees, who are laid-off when mills are closed, and help reduce prices of sugar in the country,” he said.

The new price would appeal farmers who make gur through rented gur-ganees. “But I think those with their own gur-ganees will still feel like making gur from their crop,” he opined.

“The new price may not improve cane supply to mills but it speaks volumes of the government’s indifference and lack of information on the ground situation. Look at the price fixed by the government and the one offered by the mills,” said a farmer.

The estimated production of sugarcane in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa is 1.3 million tons. It can produce up to 100,000 tons of sugar if farmers start bringing their crop to mills for crushing instead of making gur.

Ban on movement of gur to seven federally-administered tribal areas and their six provincial counter parts have caused a fall in its demand and as a result the prices have come down by about 20-30 per cent, but farmers are still going for it.

The gur-makers are alleged to have purchased standing crops from farmers and made advance payments to them for the gur they produce, according to a source. According to him, generator-run modern gur-ganees are consuming cane faster than in the past.

To get adequate supplies, the sugar millers will have to enter into contracts with farmers for purchasing their crop at fixed/better price, and a surety for prompt even advance payments before or after cultivation, but much earlier than harvesting.

There should also be a minimum price for certain fixed sugar-content, but farmers should receive a premium price for more sugar-content in their crop.

Investment in research for better varieties of sugarcane and improvement in per acre yield with better sugar recoveries is also required.

Pakistan is the sixth biggest sugarcane producer in the world but is ranks 15th both in cane and sugar yield.

Ban on Gur export

Farmers to resist ban on gur export

By Tahir Ali
Dawn Monday, 29, 2010 // <!–[CDATA[// –>

FARMERS in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa particularly in the gur-producing Peshawar valley are angry over the ban imposed on the export of gur to Afghanistan and its supply to the tribal belt.

The ban on movement of gur to federally and provincially-administered tribal areas (Fata and Pata), according to them, would not only affect adversely the farmers but also expose the poor consumers in these areas to price-hike and create a sense of deprivation among them.

Both Murad Ali Khan, president of the Kissan Board, and Haji Nimat Shah, senior vice-president of the Anjuman-e-Kashtkaran KP, said it would worsen the plight of the majority of the growers in the province.

Khan said over 60 per cent farmers in KP who hoped to earn modest income from gur making has been denied the opportunity. “Farmers would never allow such unrealistic measures being taken at the behest of the powerful sugar mafia and resist it tooth and nail. We are in touch with gur dealers and commission agents to organise protests. We will first give the government a deadline to withdraw this decision and if it is not, then we will start agitation against the move,” he said.

According to him, the sugar mill owners with their power and clout in parliament and government have got the export of gur banned. “This conspiracy has been continuing since long but the previous regimes had rejected the mafia’s demand for the ban. This time round, the mafia has succeeded in its designs by threatening the government to close their mills if the export of gur was not banned. Their next target is to get moratorium on gur production for good,” he added.

“But we won’t allow them to do so because a large number of people and farmers depend on gur incomes. We will force the government to take the decision back,” he added.

Through such measures, people in the tribal areas, who are facing the worst effects of terrorism and extremism, are being exposed to price hike,” Shah said. “The government should restore sale and movement of gur to the tribal belt. By banning entry of gur to Fata and Pata, the government is bent upon pushing the people to extreme poverty,” he argued.

“Khyber Pakhtunkhwa has limited acreage while most of the growers are subsistence farmers living on the income earned from selling their yields or by-products. There are limited cash crops with sugarcane being the major one,” Shah added.

Gur is the main sweetener for the 60 per cent people in KP and Fata and Pata. It is exported to Afghanistan, Middle East and the Central Asian states where it is used as sweetener and for producing wine.

Estimated cane production in KP is around 1.3 million tons. Over half of the produce is used in making gur.

Though the government has banned gur export, allegedly a huge quantity of the commodity along with sugar is being smuggled to Afghan, Iran and other regional markets.

“It is surprising that the government has banned gur but has shut its eyes to the rampant smuggling of fertiliser, wheat flour, timber and live animals to Afghanistan and Iran, he alleged. Instead of banning gur export, the government should stop its smuggling,” Khan added.

A pur (80kg) of gur was being traded at Rs7,000-8,000 before the ban but now it has declined by around Rs2,000 per pur after the ban.

“Around 2,000 sacks of gur were being sent to the tribal belt daily which has been banned now. The prices are coming down, affecting a large number of farmers especially in the Peshawar valley where making gur is preferred,” he added.

Farmers say millers wanted ban on gur export so that they were left with no option but to take their crop to the mills, but this may not happen.

“The ban is uncalled for. If the millers start giving competitive returns to farmers for their crops, farmers would swarm at mills. The millers may not benefit much from the ban as farmers will certainly avoid sowing the crop in future as it becomes less rewarding,” said Khan.

According to a sugar industry source, gur manufacturing was causing a loss of about $70 million to sugar production and Rs500 million to revenue annually.

Gur’s Sweet solution

Sweet solutions

By Tahir Ali

(The News, 7-02-10)

As many farmers have started using their sugarcane to make gur instead of sugar, the practice does not bode well for sugar millers in FATA. Some sugar mills in the frontier, especially those in central districts, have closed or have stopped crushing sugarcane much before schedule. While sugar mills in Dera Ismail Khan and other southern districts of the province are operating, most of them in Peshawar, Charsadda, and Mardan, have been closed for good or have stopped crushing because they have already consumed their stock of sugarcane. Frontier Sugar Mills and Khazana Sugar Mills in Mardan, for instance, are already closed while the Premier Sugar Mills in Mardan — reportedly the biggest sugar mill in Asia — has also stopped crushing.

A high-ranking official of a big sugar mill in the area, on the condition of anonymity, says increased sugarcane price is the biggest problem, “Farmers are demanding high prices for their sugarcane which is simply not viable for us. We are giving them more than the official purchase price but they insist for more and are not bringing sugarcane to the mills. We cannot run our mills in this situation.”

The official rate of 40kg of sugarcane is Rs130 locally as compared to Rs100 last year. Despite this price, there is limited sugarcane supply to mills because the gur mafia purchases the standing crop at Rs180-200 to make gur from it. Farmers either sell their crop to them or opt for making gur from sugarcane.

General Secretary Pakistan Sugar Mills Association, K Ali Qazalbash, claims farmers were offered between Rs140-200 per 40kg of sugarcane on different stations. But they demanded more than that which was simply not affordable for the millers. That was why several mills were closed down,” he says adding, “Seven out of 82 sugar mills were located in FATA. I cannot say exactly how many of these are closed nation-wide. But one thing I know for sure that sugar millers in FATA are faced with the problem of reduced supply of sugarcane as farmers prefer making gur from their crop. They prefer it because it fetches them more income as more gur can be produced from a given quantity of sugarcane than sugar,” he adds.

“Gur prices have gone up considerably and the commodity is being traded at around Rs80-100 per kg these days. It was cheaper than sugar two years back. But no one is questioning and investigating the issue. It is ironical that gur price is being determined by market forces while sugar prices have been determined by administrative decision,” complains Qazalbash. According to Qazalbash, sugar prices are going up internationally. Sugar prices must be around Rs60-65 per kg,” he argues.

There is no tax on the gur trade. The previous government had levied a fixed tax on gur ganees which was latter withdrawn after facing opposition from farmers. The Pakistan Sugar Mills Association NWFP chapter has been asking for a ban on the export of gur and for a 15 percent sales tax on gur industry. “Gur exporters earn huge chunks of money from exports to Afghanistan and Central Asian Republics (CARs) where it is used in wine-making and other items. Why has its export been allowed when there is shortage of sugar in the domestic market and the government spends billions on its imports?” says Qazalbash.

Haji Niamat Shah, Senior Vice President of Anjuman-e-Kashtkaran NWFP, however, says mills were offering prices of Rs150 to Rs175 per 50kg for different categories of sugarcanes as against official rate of Rs130 per 40kg. “Farmers are not bringing their produce to mills because they can earn more from gur-making. The result is that sugar mills have stopped crushing before schedule. It means revenue loss to the government, joblessness, and shortage of sugar in the market.”

On the suggestion to impose taxes on the gur sector, Shah says that the demand is unjust and would affect the already overburdened 85 percent poor farmers, “Instead, farmers should be offered incentives for bringing their sugarcane to the mills. For this purpose, the government should announce a relief package and a rebate in taxes for NWFP sugar industry which in turn would increase sugarcane prices for farmers. This would revive farmers’ declining interest in bringing sugarcane to the mills.”

Growing an estimated one million hectares of sugarcane annually, Pakistan is the 5th largest sugarcane producer of the world. Gur and seed consume an estimated one third of the produce. According to an estimate, 1.5 million tonnes of gur is annually produced in Pakistan. Some even claim the yield is two million tonnes. In 1996-97, it was estimated that 32 percent of the sugarcane crop was diverted for the production of an estimated 1.4 million tonnes of gur.

Gur prices have gone up sharply this year. The price of two purs of gur, weighing 160 kg, is between Rs9500 to Rs12500 as against Rs4500 to Rs5000 last year. In 1996, an average retail gur price was 14 rupees. Currently, it is Rs60-80 for different varieties.

Farmer can hardly be expected to take their yield to mills when they can earn double the amount by opting for gur. Sardar Ali, a farmer says an acre of sugarcane yields 600 maunds of sugarcane, “The farmer gets a maximum of Rs100,000 if he takes it to a sugar mill. But his net income will be around 50-55 thousand rupees after deduction of all of his expenditures. Conversely, it can produce 40 purs. With the current rate, these purs can fetch him over Rs200,000 and his net income may be over Rs100,000.”

The government has failed to implement the decision of the Supreme Court (SC) to provide sugar at Rs40 a kilo to domestic consumers. In a move that revealed its helplessness vis-à-vis the powerful sugar barons, the government raised its price to Rs45 per kg from Rs38. It also failed to stem steep rise in its prices in the open market. Sugar prices have surged to Rs70 a kilo.

According to reports, the government is mulling a crackdown against sugar mills for selling the commodity at higher price. However, it may be reminded that when the government launched a crackdown on sugar mills last year, following the SC directive to ensure availability of sugar, the commodity disappeared from the market and its price almost doubled in a matter of days.

Pakistanis consume 26kg of sugar per person annually. According to the Ministry of Industries and Production figures, around 170 million require about 4.4 million tonnes against the expected production of 3.1 million tonnes this year. If we reduce sugar consumption by one kg per person in a year, it can save 200,000 tonnes of sugar and Rs650 million with the current international price of the commodity. The government should encourage sugar-beet. The Competition Commission should also investigate and pursue allegations of cartels in sugar industry.

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