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ISLAMABAD: Experts strongly urged upon the government to formulate a realistic long-term sugar policy in consultation with all the stakeholders to safeguard the interests of both farmers and sugar millers and to provide growers a level-playing field.

A panel of experts discussed the issue of sugar at the National Press Club, here on Friday. Among others, an expert, Khan Faraz from Peshawar informed that the sugarcane is a longer duration crop as compared to other cash crops grown in the country. Farmers require great skill and huge investment to grow this crop, and face a host of problems including increasing cost of inputs, labour and water.

The growers are at the mercy of sugar millers and are unable to get a fair price for their produce. The interests of the millers are secured in every crisis whether caused by shortage or due to glut of sugar supply in the market. Either way, the millers are the beneficiaries and get concessions from the government to keep their profit margin intact.

The Pakistan Sugar Mills Association (PSMA) serves as a strong lobby and safeguards the interests of the industry, he stated. On the other hand, farmers' concerns are largely neglected and the growers are squeezed in the market place.

The main beneficiaries of any price increase are always the millers or processors. Farmers lie on the lowest rung of the value chain. They said that fixing the cane's support price very late by the government hurts the growers as well. The fixing of support price has remained a bone of contention between sugar mills and growers for years. Also the sugarcane crushing season begins very late by the sugar mills end too soon.

The delay in crushing season hits the farmers in two ways, loss in weight and delay in wheat sowing on the land vacated from cane. It has been a common practice for some sugar millers to delay payment to the growers with the result and farmers are unable to purchase inputs for the next crops. Getting loans from banks or other lending agencies for the purchase of inputs on time is also an uphill task.

Among the many problems that the farmers face, one is that they do not get new recommended varieties of sugarcane and are compelled to sow old-odd varieties with low yield and lesser sucrose contents. The benefits of the results obtained at the research stations are hardly passed on the farmers.

Similarly, inputs such as fertilisers and recommended pesticides are not available to growers at the appropriate time and at affordable rates. Water is yet another issue, wherein sugarcane needs a lot of water, its scarcity in canals and tube-wells badly affect the crop yield.

Sugarcane farmers lack an effective voice in the policy formation of the crop. To avert sugar crisis, the government needs to formulate a realistic long-term sugar policy in consultation with all the stakeholders to safeguard the interests of both farmers and sugar millers and to provide growers a level-playing field, Khan Faraz added.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2021

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