Sugar production in India, the world’s largest consumer and second biggest producer, is set to rise next season (October-September), but the government indicated that there is no plan to allow export at least during current season as it wants to keep a watch on how the rainfall pans out over different regions.

Speaking on the sidelines of a global conference in New Delhi on Tuesday, Union Food Minister Pralhad Joshi said “it is estimated that there will be better (cane) production than last year. However, it all depends on how will be the rainfall (distribution), though India Meteorological Department (IMD) has predicted above normal monsoon.”

Asked whether India will allow export of sugar, Joshi said: “first we will have to wait and see how is the monsoon rainfall this year. We will take a decision on (export) based on how much will be the sugar production.” According to the estimate of Indian Sugar & Bio-energy Manufacturers Association (ISMA), sugar production in current season ending September 30, may be around 32 million tonnes. Though there is no ban on export of sugar, the government has not issued any permit except some quantities on diplomatic requests.

The minister also said that since sugarcane consumes a lot of water, there is a need to reduce the water intake for which research and development should focus on it. “We will make a balance in the interests of both consumers and farmers,” he said and stressed on promotion of ethanol, which is a by product of sugarcane, amid climate change impact.

Earlier, inaugurating the “Sugar & Bio-Energy - Emerging Vistas” workshop, organised by International Sugar Organisation (ISO) under India’s leadership as chairman of the global body, Joshi said that sugar has a traditional linkage with Indian consumers as every event has to have sweet distribution.

Addressing the event, Sanjeev Chopra, Chairman of ISO, said that the earlier expectation was lower production of sugar in 2023-24 and 2024-25 seasons.

“However, the weather God has been kind and rains have been quite good in western and southern parts of India. We are hoping that in 2024-25 season, we will end up with better than expected sugar production number. This will ensure that not only we would be able to meet the requirements of the domestic sugar consumption, but also to set aside reasonable quantity for the purpose of making ethanol,” said Chopra, who is also India’s Food Secretary.

Ethanol blending

Highlighting the success story of India’s ethanol blending with petrol (EBP) programme, he said from a level of 1.2 per cent blending in 2013-14 it has reached 12.5 per cent till end of May in current Ethanol Supply Year (ESY) that runs from November to October. The government is committed to achieve 20 per cent blending by 2025-26, he added.

He also said that probably the supply of ethanol from grain-based plants would be more than from sugar-based distilleries in 2023-24 ESY.

Industry sources said that till now in the total supply of ethanol of 327 crore litres, the share of both grain-based and sugarcane-based distilleries are almost equal. However, going forward, the sugar industry may not be able to supply due to government’s restrictions imposed on making ethanol from cane juice. Even, the oil marketing companies have placed more quantities with grain-based plants due to availability issue with sugar mills.

To achieve 15 per cent EBP in current ESY, as targeted by the government, the ethanol requirement is about 700 crore litres, out of which oil marketing companies (OMCs) have already contracted to procure about 648 crore litres. While the total annual ethanol production capacity in the country has reached around 1,500 crore litres, the sugarcane-based industry has a lion share of about 900 crore litres with some of them are dual-feed based distilleries.