When 75-year-old farmer Narayanrao Deshmukh from Banchincholi village in Nanded district set fire to the sugarcane standing on his five-acre field many of his dreams were reduced to ashes. For the last many months his sugarcane was standing ready in the field but no sugar mill in the region was ready to take it for crushing. Glut in sugarcane in the Marathwada region has left farmers gasping as mills are not picking up all the sugarcane and cane cutters are unwilling to cut it and transport it.
Narayanrao and hundreds of farmers like him say that sugarcane cutters are demanding money to enter the field and cut the cane. Cutters say that as sugarcane is standing for long in the field it is difficult to enter into the field and cut cane.
Sugarcane cutters are insisting that farmers must set fire to the field so that thick leaf blades and weed are burnt to make way for sugarcane cutters. The mature sugarcane plant has an average total upper leaf surface of about 0.5 square meters with sharp edges.
“ Sugar mills are not taking any responsibility to ensure that sugarcane is cut and brought to the mills. As the season is ending many sugarcane cutters have returned home and farmers have to run after cane cutters. Farmers are burning sugarcane so that cane cutters could easily enter the field to cut the cane. This has been happening in many places” says Shrikant Deshmukh who is a former regional director (sugar) in the Nanded region.
The burnt sugarcane is then cut and sent to factories for crushing. Burning reduces the juice and weight of sugarcane and also mills give lower prices to the burnt sugarcane.
“ Farmers are burning sugarcane so that sugarcane cutters could enter the field. But by doing this they are incurring losses. However, farmers think that instead of letting sugarcane dry in the field, it is better that they get at least some money by sending burnt sugarcane to mills” says agriculture expert Nishikant Bhalerao.
The Maharashtra Sugar Commissioner’s Office has issued an official order to sugar mills in the State telling them not to end the crushing season until all the sugarcane available in the locality of their mills was crushed.
Millers demand assistance
Meanwhile, sugar mills in the State have reiterated the demand that government must pay grants to mills to transport excess sugarcane and also give additional sugarcane cutting money to cane cutters.