EDITORIAL: A bitter harvest

Govt must fix base price for sugarcane on time—before the start of crushing season—to ensure that growers get a sweet deal on their produce

Every year, just as the crushing season of sugarcane approaches near, there starts a sugar game, which carries high drama and equally high stakes. But usually it ends with farmers finding themselves at the receiving end. Sugarcane farmers who toil on their fields to grow these tall plants, an established source of sugar, often fall short of receiving what they deserve in return. Crushing season will begin within a month now, but the government is yet to fix the support price for sugarcane for the ongoing fiscal. The government has been setting the minimum price for sugarcane, for farmers and sugar mill operators have often failed to fix it on their mutual understanding. But with the government failing to determine the support price on time, farmers are often worried that their sugar-producing plants would yield sweet nothing. Last year also the government had fixed the support price for sugarcane only after the crushing season had started.

Farmers usually start crushing sugarcane from the beginning of December. With no decision on the support price yet, farmers are on tenterhooks. Without a scientific price for their produce, they are not sure whether they should harvest the plants just when they are ripe to sell to sugar mills. Various reports in the past have suggested that farmers rarely get the logical price for their produce based on the actual production cost. And then payments to farmers remain pending for long. As per farmers, different sugar mills still owe more than Rs 500 million to them. It is injustice to growers that they are yet to receive payments for their last produce just when they are getting ready to harvest this year’s crop. Sugar mill operators started giving payments to farmers only after the government launched a crackdown on those who were dilly-dallying to clear the dues.

The delay in fixing the support price on time and the difficulties in getting timely payments from sugar mills could force farmers to look for alternatives. Sugarcane farming is carried out in more than 60,000 hectares of land across the country. Farmers say sugarcane production is bound to fall in the ongoing fiscal year as growers in recent years have been discouraged from sugarcane farming. Anyway Nepal is far from meeting the demand of sugar from local producers, and if more growers quit sugarcane farming, dependence on imported sugar will increase, which will not be good for the country’s already widening trade deficit. There also have been reports of irregularities in the sugar sector. The government’s recent move of imposing quantitative restrictions on sugar imports had led sugar price to skyrocket just ahead of the festive season. Last year the government had doubled customs duty on sugar to 30 per cent from 15 per cent at the request of domestic sugar producers. The decisions though were aimed at protecting private sugar mills, lawmakers had suspected some irregularities. To set things right, the government must start from the ground—the sugarcane fields. It should fix the support price, based on scientific calculation and the cost and efforts farmers have put in, on time—before the start of the crushing season. The government also must ensure that farmers are paid for their produce on time. Growers deserve a sweet deal on their sugarcane, not a bitter harvest.

Promoting e-vehicles

As per an earlier decision, the Province 3 government has purchased an electric car for Chief Minister Dormani Poudel. In its policy outline, the provincial government has unveiled a plan to  promote e-vehicles in Kathmandu, Chitwan, Hetauda, Banepa, Dhulikhel and Panauti. While launching two electric buses operated by Sajha Yatayat, PM KP Oli on October 23 said the government would increase the contribution of e-vehicles by 20 per cent to cut over dependency on imported fossil fuels.

The country imported petroleum products worth more than Rs 116 billion in the last fiscal. As Nepal will become self-reliant in energy within a couple of years it is the right time to make plans to switch towards e-vehicles from fossil fuel-run ones even for mass transportation. We can save a lot of hard currency by using e-vehicles and the money thus saved can be used for other purposes. For this, the government, Nepal Electricity Authority and the private sector must work in tandem to set up adequate number of charging stations along the highways and in cities. A national policy is a must to promote e-vehicles.