The Maharashtra sugar industry is tethering at the edge of a substantial crisis. With the ongoing deficient rainfall in the State during the southwest monsoon, there are concerns about the impact on sugarcane production. This could potentially result in a 20-25 per cent decrease in sugar production compared to the previous season.

Maharashtra accounts for about one-third of the country’s sugar production and mills in the State produced 10.5 million tonnes in the 2022-23 season.

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B.B. Thombare, President of the West Indian Sugar Mills Association (WISMA), told businessline on Thursday that there were grave concerns as sugar mills may face a significant shortage of sugarcane next season. “There has been a deficit in monsoon rainfall during July and August, and the hope for improved rains in September is diminishing. Our earlier estimates indicated a 15 per cent deficit in sugar production (compared to last year’s production), but now it might escalate to a 20-25 per cent shortfall,” said Thombare. He said the government’s delay in granting permission to begin the sugarcane crushing season will exacerbate the situation.

Fodder shortage

Thombare raised the issue of the increasing number of khandsari and jaggery-making units in Maharashtra. He noted that farmers might opt to divert their sugarcane to these units instead of waiting for sugar mills to commence crushing. “Also there is a shortage of fodder in the State, further reducing the availability of sugarcane for the mills” said Thombare.

Last crushing season in Maharashtra ended with lower sugar production than the estimate, due to unexpectedly lower cane yields owing to higher ratoon crop share and uneven distribution of rainfall.

Once again this season, the sugar industry is grappling with issues, and State government is closely monitoring rainfall developments, said one of  government officials in Maharashtra.

Farmers oppose Govt move

The Maharashtra government has issued a notification to prevent farmers from selling their sugarcane outside the State. This move comes as the government predicts that the shortage of sugarcane will limit the operational capacity of sugar mills in Maharashtra to just 90 days. Consequently, the government has prohibited farmers from transporting sugarcane to other States.

However, Raju Shetti, the President of Swabhimani Shetkari Sanghatana (SSS), has issued a warning of potential protests against the government’s decision. Shetti has stated that if the government does not withdraw its decision by October 2, sugarcane farmers are prepared to take to the streets in protest.

“Farmers should possess the liberty to sell their sugarcane to any sugar mill in any state. The government should not impose restrictions on farmers. Numerous mills in Karnataka provide more favourable prices compared to those in Maharashtra, which is why we send our sugarcane to Karnataka every year,” stated farmer R.R. Chougule from Kolhapur.