Farmers increasingly abandon sugarcane farming for other sweeter options


After facing years of criticism for not paying sugarcane farmers on time, sugar mills have now found themselves struggling to procure the raw material for producing sugar as more and more farmers have abandoned sugarcane farming in the recent years.

The number of sugarcane farmers is declining every passing year due to which sugarcane production has been affected.

Of the total sugar mills across the country, four have halted their operations completely. Meanwhile, the remaining 10 sugar mills are operating at less capacity in lack of sugarcane.

According to Kapilmuni Mainali, president of Nepal Federation of Sugarcane Producers (NFSP), sugarcane production has been declining by 20 per cent each year since the last seven years.

"Just seven years ago, more than 26 million sugarcane had been crushed in the sugar mills, while in the last year only 16 million sugarcane were crushed,"

Mainali said, "This year the number is likely to drop further."

Over the past seven-year period, some sugar mills have completely ceased operations in lack of sugarcane and after failing to bear the cost of production.

According to the Nepal Sugar Mills Association, Shree Ram Sugar Mill Ltd, Annapurna Sugar Mill, Indira Sugar Mill and Lumbini Sugar Mill have been shut down. According to Mainali, farmers had stopped providing sugarcane to those mills after the mill owners failed to clear their dues for a long time.

Meanwhile, Shasikant Agrawal, president of the association, said that the mills are shutting down as they are struggling just to breakeven.

As per him, the existing sugar mills have a capacity to produce 400,000 tonnes of sugar annually. However, they are producing only around 40 per cent of the total capacity. "Most of the industries are in loss, thus some of them have decided to shut down," he added.

According to Mainali, around 100,000 farmers from 17 districts used to be involved in sugarcane farming.

However, now the number of farmers involved in sugarcane farming has dropped to around 60,000.

"Most of the farmers have opted for foreign employment while a few have taken up farming of other crops that provide better returns," he said.

A version of this article appears in the print on February 18, 2021, of The Himalayan Times