UP’s 70-90% marginal farmers ‘forced to sell’ sugarcane at 40-50% lower prices

Story By : Counterview Desk TUESDAY, JANUARY 21, 2020

An Oxfam study, “Human Cost of Sugar: A farm-to-mill assessment of sugar supply chain in Uttar Pradesh”, conducted in 58 villages across 5 districts of Uttar Pradesh – Meerut, Saharanpur, Bareilly, Lakhimpur Kheri and Muzaffarnagar – has found that sugarcane cultivation is the primary source of income for 67% of the marginal and 95% for the small farmers, but as high as 60% of the farmers, said that their basic quota of sugarcane supply is usually less than their actual produce by anywhere between 150-220 quintals.

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Reason of Decline-

  • Faulty Surveys resulting in decreased incomes by Rs 48,000 to Rs 72,000, the study said, published last year, 70% -90% of the farmers are often forced to sell the cane to local jaggery producing units at lower price due to delays in receipt of supply tickets, while 90% of the farmers face unfair weighing of cane at the mill gates or collection centres.
  • Gaps in annual sugarcane survey. An annual survey of sugarcane cultivation is conducted by the cane societies to provide an estimate of sugarcane production. The study found that in some villages in Bareilly, Saharanpur and Lakhimpur Kheri districts the survey is not conducted and the data is collected from a few farmers. Some small and marginal farmers complained that the officials completed the survey by just meeting the village Sarpanch. The respondents also shared that often the average yield of the last 3 years is used to calculate the estimate quota of supply for a village. Farmers are assigned basic quota of cane supply based on these surveys. As high as 60% of the farmers from our sample in Bareilly mentioned that there is significant difference between their actual production and the basic quota of cane supply assigned to them.
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  • Faulty GPS Systems: The cane society has recently started promoting the use of GPS enabled systems to enumerate the size of the land in order to maintain accuracy. However, the entire system is prone to errors and often leads to discrepancies. The study found that difference between actual production and the basic quota ranges between 150-220 quintals due to it.
  • Delays in receiving cane supply tickets- Farmers plan their sugarcane harvest based on the supply tickets issued to them by the sugar mills. This is a time sensitive process because a gap in harvest and supply would result in lesser sugar recovery of the crop and a late harvest would result in the farmer missing the procurement window also, this leaves the farmer with a comparatively lesser window for the sowing of the next season crop. sar
  • Severe delay in release of cane payments by the sugar mills– One of the key concern that came forth across all 5 districts was the     sever delay in receiving payments against the supply of cane. According to the Uttar Pradesh Sugarcane (Regulation of supply and purchase) Act 1953, all sugar mills are supposed to clear payments to farmers within 14 days of purchasing cane, else pay an interest of 15% on the principal amount. The study found that 60% – 70% of the farmers reported having received the payment for the sugarcane sold to the mills in 2016 crushing season only in October 2017. Farmers also reported an incident where 5 private mills across the 5 districts closed down without paying the farmers their dues.
  • Working condition and challenges faced by farm workers– For daily wage workers in sugarcane cultivation, it’s their secondary source of income. 80% of the workers are engaged in agricultural labour work for other crops like wheat and vegetables. Remaining 20% take up jobs in nearby cities or towns majorly for construction work or in the brick kilns near their respective villages as a primary source of income.
  • Also, Payment made to the daily wage workers is highly discriminatory of gender with a significant variation in the amount of wages paid to men and women workers. Male workers get paid Rs 300 to Rs 400 per day and women are paid up between Rs 80 to Rs 200 per day for the same work.

Excerpts-

Farmers in the 5 districts have a high income dependence on sugarcane cultivation. It is the primary source of income for 67% of the marginal farmers and 95% for the small farmers. Marginal farmers owing their small land holding cannot be dependent solely on sugarcane cultivation for cover living expenses. They are therefore engaged in agricultural and non-agricultural wage labour alongside.
Data indicate that for 67% of the marginal farmers the primary source of income is sugarcane cultivation as against the 95% of the small farmers remaining marginal farmers are deriving their primary income from agricultural labour (22%), nonagricultural labour (8%) and small business (3%).

Of the total number of smallholder and marginal farmers interviewed the study indicated that 22% of the marginal farmers opted for agricultural labour alongside sugarcane cultivation as a secondary source of income. 11% of the marginal farmers were engaged in non-agricultural labour, as a secondary source of income mostly in construction work, while 3% also ran small businesses. 95% of the small farmers were engaged only in sugarcane cultivation.

Most of the small and marginal farmers are unable to sell their full produce to the mills every year due to delay in supply of tickets, non-membership in cane societies (when cultivating on tenancy land) and delay in payment from mills. These challenges force them to sell their cane to the local informal jaggery producing units known as kolhus at rates that are 40% – 50% lower than the SAP, thereby decreasing their income from sugarcane cultivation

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