Gulbarga's sweet truths
SUGARCANE COUNTRY Some farmers in the Aland region of Gulbarga district have set up small sugarcane mills in their fields. They have realised that it is more profitable to be involved in jaggery production than merely selling sugarcane to factories, reports Ananda Teertha Pyati
If you happen to travel across the rural areas of Gulbarga district, you will in all likelihood spot tiny huts that have long chimneys. And most likely, sugarcane juice simmering in huge, wide vessels nearby. The aroma is bound to draw attention. “In spite of the scarcity of labourers, it is much profitable to produce jaggery than directly selling sugarcane to the factory. After all, the demand for jaggery is increasing, and in the future, will provide more earnings to growers,” says Devendrappa, a farmer who too owns a small sugarcane mill near Aland of Gulbarga district.
Owing to the increasing number of sugar factories in North Karnataka, farmers are growing sugarcane in a huge area. Being one of the major cash crops, sugarcane cultivation is more expensive compared to the cultivation of other cash crops. After spending thousands of rupees, farmers are not able to get a good price for their produce.
Of course, there are instances of some farmers running sugarcane mills successfully and producing jaggery.
Sugarcane is a ten-month-duration crop and yields 30 to 50 tonnes per acre. Sugar factories buy this product at a cost of around Rs 2,000 per ton. The factory management sends labourers and trucks to the fields and purchases cane without the involvement of middlemen. This avoids the problem of cutting and transporting of the produce.
“But fixing of prices has left farmers disappointed. Neither the government nor the management thinks of the real expenditure involved in raising the crop,” points out Subbannaa Biradar, sugarcane farmer of Nellur village.
Mills in the fields
To gain more returns, some farmers have established sugarcane mills in their fields. In spite of labour scarcity, farmers are able to run these mills, thanks to workers who migrate to Karnataka.
These workers perform a series of tasks, from cutting sugarcane in fields to sending prepared jaggery to the market. They share their tasks and continuously work till the process ends. “Cutting sugarcane, crushing it, boiling juice and preparing jaggery demands hard work. I distribute all activities among my team members and we are therefore making more than one quintal of jaggery per day,” says Rukmuddin, head of a team of workers.
Farmers who have given a contract to these workers have no worries. They just arrive and take the prepared lumps of jaggery to a major market in Latur of Maharashtra. Every ton of sugarcane produces nearly 1.2 quintals of jaggery. While sugarcane is sold at Rs 2,000 per ton, prepared jaggery is being sold at Rs 3,000 per quintal.
Some agents also arrive at the place and buy directly from farmers. Even though the cost of production is more, jaggery preparation is gaining acceptance among farmers, because of its increasing demand.
Now a days, mills with improved technology have reduced labour dependency in sugarcane mills.
Earlier, oxen were used to extract juice from sugarcane stacks; now crushing machines have replaced them. The other processes involved are also carried out easily using superior technology. Some farmers have adopted further improved techniques and have thus succeeded in reducing labour cost.
If farmers send sugarcane to factories, they receive money after several weeks. Once the cutting time is postponed due to several reasons, including fixing the price, scarcity of labourers and transport problem, the content of sugar in stacks decreases considerably.
This may result in further decrease of price, and farmers suffer. Instead of this dilemma, some farmers have established mills and are producing jaggery.
Also, mill owners earn extra money by renting out their mills once their work is over. This has encouraged other farmers to volunteer and manufacture jaggery instead of merely selling their produce to the factory for a minimum price.