How to overcome sugarcane production issues in India

Over Emphasis On Sugarcane Production May Turn Indian Agriculture Diabetic – Here’s Prescription 

India is the second largest sugarcane producer in the world next to Brazil and Uttar Pradesh (UP) also happens to be the largest sugarcane producing state in India. UP accounts for 44% of the total sugarcane area in the country and 39% of the total production. Whereas, Maharashtra is the second largest state contributing 22% production in just 20% of the area, which is less than 50% of the total sugarcane area in UP. Notably, sugarcane area in UP is on the rise and has gone up to 22.65 lakh hectares during 2017-18, which is 1 lakh hectare more than 2016-17 though production is either stagnant or showing declining trend. Such a situation demands thorough introspection and come up with corrective measures backed by a balanced Crop-plan to make UP Agriculture more dynamic and rewarding.     

How to overcome sugarcane production issues in India

Sugarcane area in UP at present has touched to 23.0 lakh hectares with an anticipated production of 100 lakh tonnes. Historically, undivided Meerut and Muzaffarnagar districts still hold the key and known as Sugar Bowl of UP. Cultivation of sugarcane in UP spreads over 43 districts with a wide fluctuation in yield. The yield levels of canes in Mathura and Kanpur districts are less than 500 quintals/ha; whereas the yield levels are close to 750 quintals/ha in the states of Shamli, Meerut, Muzaffarnagar, Bagpat, Amroha, Hapur and Bijnor. In rest of the districts cane yield hovers between 500-600 quintals/ha. Such a situation necessarily demands intense planning to intensify cane production not by increasing area but by improving productivity, at least by touching the national average yield of 800 quintals/ha if not more (can go up to 1000 quintals/ha, the average yields of Tamil Nadu and West Bengal) and increasing net returns per unit area by introducing compatible companion crops.

The broad strategies on which the policy makers may ponder are:

1. Dileneate the sugarcane producing districts having average yield of less than 600 quintals/ha, unless there is immediate scope to boost productivity through technological interventions.

2. Concentrate more on such districts where sowing of sugarcane can be advanced to Autumn from Spring season. Autumn planting increases cane yield by 15-20% and sugar recover by 0.5 unit more than spring planted cane.

3. Bring more areas under improved varieties, relatively of shorter duration, essentially required to minimize pressure on land and cutdown irrigation requirements.

4. Popularize those varieties having highest sugar recovery as in Bijnor district having recovery of 11.7%, the highest in the country.

5. Encourage autumn sugarcane-based intercropping involving Rabi oilseeds, pulses and high value vegetables proved to provide early cash to the farmers. Autumn sugarcane + winter maize (cobs) / rajmash / potato also proved profitable and sustainable.

6. Emphasis on increasing land use efficiency, input use efficiency and finally the water use efficiency empowering small-holder farmers economically.

7. Innovative wheat + sugarcane overlapping cropping system. The technology is known to enhance input use efficiency, reduce production cost and increase profit- margin.

Sugarcane is known as ‘world’s thirstiest’ and high nutrient demanding crop, which occupy the field almost year long. Managing social and environmental risks in a sugarcane dominated state is no doubt a challenging task before the govt. In the process of intensification of sugarcane production, the state is bound to invite multiple problems like soil acidity/ salinity impacting on soil fertility with declining organic carbon. Sugar mills, on the other hand, produce wastewater, emissions and solid waste that have adverse impact on the environment.

Agriculture being a State Subject, Govt may prepare a Balanced Crop Production Plan after ascertaining the total requirements of cereals, pulses, oilseeds, tubers, bulbs, spices, fodders, molasses/sugars, vegetables, etc. on annual basis for the next 5 years and focus on such crops in an allocated area based on calculation and backed by the principle of growing a particular crop in high productivity zone as identified within the state with responsibility of procurement, distribution and buffer stocking. There are hardly any crops which can’t be grown in UP and require importing from neighbouring states. Rather, the state has all the potentiality to grow wide range of crops besides, fish, meat, poultry and dairy products to supply to other states and turn overall agriculture into a profitable venture. This is true for all other important sugarcane growing states in India.

Last but not the least; to maintain the sweetness of the lips, the UP Govt may introduce Stevia, a low-calorie sugar and craze for the people in western world besides effectively utilizing the sugarcane areas already turned saline by growing sugar beet profitability and supporting alcoholic beverage industry! 

Author, Dr. M S Basu is Formerly, Director ICAR (DARE), Visiting Scientist ICRISAT (CGIAR), UNIDO International Consultant on Aflatoxin, Malawi (Africa) and Independent Consultant to NAIP (Funded by World Bank).