gur-making up in KP

Bitter realities of a sweet crop

Sugarcane growers prefer making gur rather than selling the crop to mills owners

Bitter realities of a sweet crop

It is gur-making season in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, especially in Peshawar, Charsadda, Mardan and Nowshera. The estimated sugarcane production in KP is around 1.3 million tonnes. Almost half of it is used for gur making. Gur produced in Charsadda and Mardan is very popular countrywide. Gur is the main sweetener for around 60 per cent people in KP and Federally and Provincially-administered tribal areas (Fata and Pata). It is exported to Afghanistan, Middle Eastern and Central Asian states where it is believed to be used as a sweetener and in winemaking.

Mardan and Peshawar are the hubs of gur trade. Around ten to twelve thousands of purs are traded in the Pipal Mandi gur market when the trade is in full swing. Gur commission agents are also very active these days.

Thousands of tonnes of gur is traded in the province or taken out of the country daily. Majority of the sugarcane growers prefer using their cane-produce for gur-making rather than taking it to mills for its comparative advantages. It fetches them good prices. They have to feed their animals with cane-grass which necessitates intermittent cutting of crop as allowed by gur-making and not simultaneous harvesting of the entire crop as demanded by the mills option. And they usually use gur in their homes. Gur is used in juices, sweets and eaten with bread as curry with bread by the poor.

In Punjab, a kind of gur, named Duplicate, is prepared by mixing gur, glucose and other ingredients. It is good-looking as well as cheaper and tasteful, according to some farmers.

While sugar-mills began crushing season in early November, gur-making is usually started in late September or early October. It lasts till April next year.

Gur prepared in the initial stage is of inferior quality but can fetch more. Late production increases yield and standard. The gur made in January, February and March is much better in quality and is liked the most. Similarly, gur without alteration is the best for human consumption while that mixed with artificial colour tastes bad, though people residing in remote areas prefer it for its bright colour. Again, the gur made from the roots of the last year’s crop is good in quality while that from fresh canes is not that good.

According to Murad Ali Khan, a farmers’ leader from Charsadda, gur is more competitive for the farmers at the current rate.

“A pur of gur (having 75-80 kilograms) fetches a price up to Rs5000 depending upon its colour, taste and quality in the local market. Sugarcane yield per acre is around 400 maunds which can produce 20 purs (a pur consumes 20-25 maunds of cane). These can earn a farmer Rs100,000 or more. It exceeds the price offered by sugar-mills these days,” he says.

According to another farmer, quality sugarcane can give as much as 40 purs per acre. But, he says, farmers in KP will only benefit from the crop when its per acre yield of 350-400 maunds is increased to that of 650-700 maunds in Punjab. At present, gur-making through rented gurganee (machines) is less beneficial for farmers while those who own ganees are the real beneficiaries,” he opines.

Muhammad Zahir Khan, another growers’ representative, says hitches in supply of gur to Fata, Pata and the ban on export of gur to Afghanistan and the central Asian states, however, have lowered gur prices of late to the detriment of gur farmers. “Gur can be a healthy addition to the countries’ depleting export earnings if its export is allowed after value addition.”

Masud Khan, the manager of the Premier Sugar Mills Mardan, says though the minimum sugarcane support price is Rs170 per 40 kilogrammes in other provinces, the local sugar mills offer Rs180. “We have to compete with gurganees. While our per kg cost of production has increased for higher prices and wages offered to farmers and employees, escalating fuel prices and various taxes, gurganees have no such taxes and responsibilities. How can we compete with them? Sugar industry will be on verge of closure if not supported,” he says. The industry has been campaigning for ban on gur export, taxes on gur industry and eventual moratorium on gur production.

Rizwanullah Khan, the president of the Kissan Board KP, however, says prices of all the things are on the rise while last year’s cane price has remained unchanged. “In 2010, mills had offered Rs240 per 40kg. Cane price be increased as per cost of production. We have planned agitation to press for good cane-prices.”

Gur was once the food of the poor. Though it has become costlier than sugar for few years now, the poor still prefer it for its taste and health benefits.

A farmer said gur agents and big farmers have installed generator-run modern gur-ganees with several furnaces which help prepare plenty of purs daily.

In 1996, average retail gur price was 14 rupees a kilo. Currently, it is sold at Rs66-75/kg. The sugarcane growers, unfortunately, haven’t been able to get advantage of this hike. Growers say the gur commission agents have devoured most of the surplus value in the shape of huge commission or deduction of 5-8kg gur/a pur.

Mardan and Peshawar are the hubs of gur trade. Around ten to twelve thousands of purs are traded in the Pipal Mandi gur market when the trade is in full swing. Gur commission agents work pretty much like the property dealers or motor vehicle bargainers who are only concerned with their commission.

“The gur agents enter advance agreements with farmers by making payments for standing crops. They provide farmers seasonal/crop-based loans which they use for buying inputs and fulfilling their domestic needs,” a farmer says.

An official of the Sugarcane Crops Research Institute said though KP’s cane has better quality and sucrose content, its average yield is between 16-24 metric tonnes, much less than that of Sindh and Punjab. He cited insufficient use of fertiliser and pesticides, non-attractive price given by mills, intercropping, use of less than recommended seed (4 ton/acre) and shortage of irrigation water as reasons for lesser acreage and production.

Decline in sugarcane market price

Decline in sugarcane market price

By Tahir Ali

THE ban on supply of gur to Afghanistan despite bumper sugarcane crop and the prolonged cold/dry weather have improved cane supply situation for sugar mills. However, farmers in Khyber PakhtunKhwa remain adversely affected.

Along with fall in price of sugar, per satta (two purs or 150-180kg) price of gur has come down to about Rs8,000-9,000 this season from Rs16,000-17,000 last year. It is for the first time in recent years that gur has lost its competitiveness.

Masud Khan, an official of the Premier Sugar Mills, Mardan, said that an overwhelming majority of farmers were bringing their produce to the mills. “For the first time during this season cane supply has reached 100 per cent delivery. We are receiving around 3,600 tonnes of the commodity daily,” he said adding “against the official support price of Rs150 per 40kg, the growers were being paid Rs158/40kg or around Rs200 per 50kg.”

“Huge cane production, low gur prices and damages caused to the crop by frost with fear of further loss to sucrose contents due to weather conditions, and the need to vacate lands for subsequent crops, are compelling farmers to bring their crops to the mills,” Khan added.

According to Haji Naimat Shah Roghani, senior vice-president Anjuman-i-Kashtkaran KP, farmers widely cultivated cane this year following attractive prices of Rs338/50kg offered by mills, and around Rs16,000/satta price of gur in the market last year. Cane was sold even up to Rs500/50kg to private vendors engaged in juice extracting business.

“Banning movement of gur to the tribal belt and its export to Afghanistan, which led to sharp fall in its prices, the faulty decision of the government to import sugar at the start of crushing season instead of lifting stocks from mills in time, led to fall in cane price severely affecting growers. This, no doubt, helped reduce sugar prices in the market but at a critical juncture making timely payments to farmers impossible, at least for now,” he said.

“The millers are offering a price of Rs200 for 50kg these days. At the present rate of returns and for gur in the market, 300 maunds average per acre yield (15 purs or eight satta) could earn a farmer only Rs60,000 and nearly the same amount if he takes his produce to mills.

The present rate of gur and the rate offered by mills are too little for farmers as the per acre cost of production has increased to almost over Rs60,000 due to steep rise in prices of farm inputs, services and increased land-rent in recent times, especially in the last couple of years,” said Mr Roghani.

“With such a return that only equals the cost of production, farmers would hardly be inclined to grow sugarcane in the coming Kharif season. Does the government understand the risks involved?” he asked.

Farmers in the cane-rich DIK have multiple complaints. Muhammad Ismael, a farmer from Luanda Sharif in DIK, said farmers were being denied indents, a prerequisite for cane-supply to mills. “Indents are issued only to big farmers who have access to right quarters. The farmers with poor resources are running from pillar to post. As gur production was mostly avoided by area farmers, selling cane to mills was the only option,” he said.

”But with indents not issued or delayed for lengthy process as these are being provided through agents against the past practice when it was directly given to farmers, we have to sell our cane to the commission ‘mafia’ at a lower prices but prompt payment. The commission agents buy the crop between Rs135-140 per 40kg against Rs150 offered by Chashma Sugar mills in the area,” he added.

“Payments legally due in 15 days are delayed for months. A farmer who supplied cane to a mill last year received his payments this year. The farmers are also subjected to a cut of around 10-15 per cent on the pretext of poor quality and low sucrose content,” added Mr Ismael.

With gur prices historically low, the commission agents should also have reduced their commission at gur markets. “But they continue to impose a commission of Rs130/pur in Mardan and Swabi while their counterparts in Peshawar and Charsadda were collecting only Rs40/pur. The government must ensure a uniform rate of commission for gur agents in the province,” Mr Roghani added.

“The government is also needed to support farmers through targeted subsidies on inputs. It should remove or reduce general sales tax on agriculture services and inputs. It should allow export of gur and lift the ban on its movement to the provincially- and federally-administered tribal areas,” he stressed.

Under performing sugar crops research institute

I took photo with Canon camera.

Image via Wikipedia

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

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.

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.