All nine sugar mills operating across the country may face a shortage of sugarcane this year as the total farming area of this cash crop has declined by almost half compared to previous growing seasons.
Farmers in the catchment areas of the sugar mills refrained from cultivating sugarcane in large quantities this season after facing enormous hassles and losses due to the sudden closure of six other mills in the country last year, sources said.
The sugarcane crushing, or processing, season begins in December each year.
This year, sugarcane was cultivated on 49,900 acres of land in the mill-catchment areas while the total area used was 1.09 lakh acres in 2020.
The shuttered sugar mills are Setabganj Sugar Mill in Dinajpur, Panchagarh Sugar Mill, Shyampur Sugar Mill in Badarganj upazila of Rangpur, Pabna Sugar Mill, Kushtia Sugar Mill and Rangpur Sugar Mill.
However, even farmers in the catchment areas of operational mills have reduced sugarcane cultivation as they find it difficult to maintain a steady stream of profit.
For example, Hafizur Rahman, a farmer of Panchagarh sadar upazila who cultivated sugarcane on 18 acres of land to supply to Thakurgaon Sugar Mill last year, said he suffered a loss of Tk 12 lakh since most of his crops were damaged in the field.
As such, Hafiz reduced his sugarcane cultivation area from 18 acres to six acres in a bid to avert any further losses.
He cultivated paddy on the rest of his 20-acre farm.
Many farmers even lost their capital entirely after the six sugar mills were closed.
Md Zikrul Islam had cultivated sugarcane on 10 acres of land last season to supply Thakurgaon Sugar Mill, the largest mill of its kind in the country’s northern region.
But since most of his crops were damaged in the fields, he suffered a loss of Tk 4.5 lakh.
The land he operated on had been leased for Tk 25,000 per year but after failing to pay the amount in 2020, the contract was not renewed.
“I have lost everything and it is not possible for me to return to the business now,” Islam said.
Md Sagar Hossain, president of sugarcane growers association in Rangpur, said cultivation has declined in the district this year as most farmers were unwilling to stay in the industry after sustaining losses last season.
Shahjahan Ali Badsha, general secretary of the Federation of Bangladesh Sugar Mill Farmers, said sugarcane farmers were devastated by the arbitrary decision to shut down six mills.
“We demonstrated across the country in protest but the government retained its decision,” he added.
Badsha also alleged that production costs have risen since sugarcane growers were not getting the adequate amount of farming materials, such as fertiliser, pesticides, and seeds, from mill authorities.
“They have yet to even sign a contract with the farmers,” he said.
The Bangladesh Sugar and Food Industries Corporation had decided to discontinue operations at six loss-making sugar mills last year in a bid to revamp their production practices.