Uncertainty over procurement price of sugar mills, delay in releasing money for the cane supplied, ambiguity over water availability and rising cost of production - all these factors have forced many sugarcane growers in Thanjavur, Pudukkottai, Tiruchi and Karur districts to turn their attention towards other crops.
The smoke arising from the towering chimney of the Arignar Anna Sugar Mills at Kurungulam, indicates that there is some activity going on. Glancing at the mill buildings rising on the horizon, F. Baskar of Arputhapuram is ploughing his field, as his mother Mary Ammal drops the groundnut seed one after the other in the furrow created.
“I’m in no hurry to return to sugarcane cultivation. People in my village are seeing hope in groundnut and I’m following them. Maize gave me some hope last season and I have raised tapioca on a portion of the land,” he says haltingly.
Mr. Baskar and several of the farmers in the region spread over Thanjavur and Gandarvakottai taluk of Pudukkottai district who had been raising sugarcane and supplying it to the Kurungulam mills have switched over to millets, groundnut, tapioca and maize.
The situation is turning worse, says Thozhagiripatti P. Govindaraj, secretary of Arignar Anna Sugar Mills Sugar Cane Suppliers Association.
Cane growers are switching over to other crops due to intransigent attitude of some sugar mills in releasing the dues and the growers not getting a remunerative price for the produce.
“The situation at the private sugar mill units at Pettaivaithalai in Tiruchi district and Pugalur in Karur district has turned grim. Due to lack of adequate cane for crushing, the mills operated far below the installed capacity. Though it could be pricking their management, ultimately it is, we, the cane growers who are left to fend for ourselves,” rues K. Anbalagan of Sugar Cane Growers Association, Pettaivaithalai, Tiruchi district.
Three seasons now
“Neither the State government nor the sugar mills are interested in our welfare. They are not treating us as interested stakeholders. Then how could we carry the burden? The problems that arose because of them has forced us to shift to alternative crops over the past three seasons,” he says.
“Last year’s drought, coupled with the balance of payments due from the mills to the growers forced many of us to have a rethink on cultivating sugarcane. The remunerative prices we get for maize, groundnut, pulses and even paddy in many areas of the State have all contributed to the paradigm shift from cane to other crops,” says Namakkal G. Ajeethan, State Technical Secretary, Consortium of Indian Farmers Associations.
Sources indicate that sugarcane cultivation has come down from eight lakh acres about five years back to just about three lakh acres now. This has affected the sugar mills too.
While the Fair and Remunerative Price, announced by the Central government, for the current year is ₹ 2,550 a tonne, the State government is yet to announce its State Advised Price though it should have done it in September itself.
It is another matter that many sugar mills have not released even the mandatory FRP for the cane supplied in the previous years, allege sugarcane producers, reasoning the shift to other crops.