The sowing area under sugarcane is likely to decline by 10 per cent this season following shortage of water in major producing states including Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka. Vagaries of the monsoon rainfalls during the last season, and their oddly distribution thereafter, created water shortage in these cane-rich states, resulting into shifting of farmers’ sowing interest from this high water requirement crop to others such as cotton, guar and soybean.
Data compiled by the agriculture ministry showed that the sowing area under sugarcane fell to 4.07 million hectare (ha) as on May 17, 2013 compared to 4.57 million ha in the corresponding period last year. Sowing, however, progressed slower than expected thereafter with the overall coverage area under this sensitive cash crop advancing to 4.12 ha towards the end of May.
Although the Indian Meteorological Department (IMD) forecast normal monsoon rainfalls — a crucial component for the progress of cane sowing — this season, the pace of sowing is expected to remain slow, especially in major pockets of the drought-affected districts of Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka.
Lesser sowing, however, could pull down India’s overall cane productivity followed by the proportionate decline in the country’s sugar output. The agriculture ministry, therefore estimates around 12.5 per cent decline in cane output at 70 million tonnes this year compared to 80 million tonnes in the previous year.
A number of districts including Vidarbha, Ahmednagar, Aurangabad and a couple of others in Maharashtra along with almost all districts in Tamil Nadu, in addition to a large number of districts in Karnataka, was in the grip of drought due to failure of the monsoon rainfalls last season. Therefore, farmers shifted to less water-consuming crops including cotton, guar and soybean.
The Centre recently de-controlled the sugar sector by withdrawing 10 per cent mandatory sale at lower price through the public distribution system (PDS) in addition to abolishing the monthly quota release system. The sustained decline in sugar production, therefore, may force the government to liberalise import of raw sugar, which currently is restricted through high import duty.
Sugar import was ‘nil’ in the last two seasons due to sufficient domestic production. During the current season, however, total import of raw sugar stood at 400,000 tonnes including 14,000 tonnes of white sugar imported from Pakistan. Last year, Maharashtra had received below-average rainfall in most regions due to which the state had to declare drought, causing sugar-cane production to fall. This year, sugar production in the state is expected to fall to 8 million tonne from 9 million tonne in the previous year. Most of the sugar cane is expected to come from cash-rich areas of Sholapur, Pune and Ahmednagar, according to the sugar commissionerate of Maharashtra and Maharashtra State Federation of Cooperative Sugar Factories.
However, Indian Sugar Mills Association (ISMA), the apex industry trade body, is yet to assess the sowing and crop progress in the country. “We have not yet assessed the cane sowing area and the crop’s progress for which we are waiting for the first showers of the monsoon season. We will have some clarity only after rainfall begins,” said ISMA’s spokesperson.
ISMA and sugar mills have also asked the government to increase import duty on sugar to 30 per cent from the current duty of 10 per cent to discourage imports of the commodity as there is enough supply of sugar in the market.