Production at state-run sugar mills is set to hit its lowest point in over a decade as sugarcane processing has fallen sharply amid reduced supply, according to the Bangladesh Sugar and Food Industries Corporation (BSFIC).
Farmers were not provided timely support after the government’s late decision to shutter six mills that had constantly incurred losses. So, they were unable to cultivate an adequate amount of the crop.
“For this reason, sugar production has declined,” said Md Arifur Rahman Apu, chairman of the BSFIC.
The nine remaining mills are expected to produce 24,900 tonnes of sugar by crushing 442,000 tonnes of sugarcane this fiscal year, down 49 per cent compared to 48,133 tonnes and 875,802 tonnes respectively in FY 2020-21, BSFIC data showed.
But production will gradually increase from this year as the BSFIC will provide high-yielding seeds invented by the Bangladesh Sugarcrop Research Institute, he added.
Apu went on to say that he expects the mills will be able to break even within the next four years as per the new recovery roadmap.
Besides, British American Tobacco Bangladesh (BATBC), is providing support by sharing their expertise on good agriculture practices (GAPs), which could help sugarcane farmers expand their output.
Sheikh Shabab Ahmed, head of external affairs at BATBC, said the BSFIC had sought its cooperation in this regard.
“We have a long history in contract farming and using GAPs to secure higher yields in a sustainable way, which the BSFIC can apply on sugarcane farming,” he said.
Of all the sugarcane being crushed this season, Thakurgaon Sugar Mills Ltd processed about 2,898 tonnes of sugar by crushing 57,800 tonnes of sugarcane in just 50 days of operation. However, this is just half of the company’s production level compared to previous levels.
It began processing sugar on December 24 last year with a target to crush 50,000 tonnes of sugarcane and concluded production on February 11, said Md Sakhawat Hossain, managing director of the state-run mill.
Farmers in the mill’s catchment area supplied 36,826 tonnes of sugarcane by cultivating the crop on 3,150 acres of land this season.
Last season, the displaced farmers of two state-run sugar mills in Panchagarh and Dinajpur’s Setabganj that were shuttered in FY 2020-21 were asked to supply their produce to Thakurgaon Sugar Mills instead.
As such, Thakurgaon Sugar Mills produced 6,052 tonnes of sugar by crushing a total of 1.13 lakh tonnes of sugarcane grown by farmers in the three districts that year.
However, sugarcane cultivation has declined drastically since then as farmers fell into uncertainty after the two mills were closed.
In the current season, growers in Thakurgaon cultivated sugarcane on 3,525 acres of land as of February 13 against the target of 7,000 acres.
Acreage will increase by about 500 acres though as farmers can cultivate sugarcane till the end of February, said Abu Raihan, general manager for agriculture at Thakurgaon Sugar Mills.
Sugarcane farmers in Panchagarh and Setabganj have almost stopped cultivation for the closure of their respective mills, sources said.