While promising to protect sugar cane growers’ interests and rights, Chief Minister Syed Murad Ali Shah told a delegation of growers on Friday that the Sindh government’s financial health was not good enough for it to start giving a subsidy to them along with the subsidy it has announced for millers.
Presiding over a meeting with sugar cane growers at CM House on Friday, a few days after protesting farmers marching towards Bilawal House were beaten up police, Shah said that his party – the Pakistan Peoples Party – has always worked with growers to get them better prices for their crops. “We always protect your interests and rights,” he said.
The CM explained to the growers that mill owners had not been starting crushing season because they already had leftover sugar stocks in their godowns from last year. “This is why I talked to the prime minister and took up the issue in the Council of Common Interests, which approved a subsidy of Rs10.70 per kilogramme for sugar export,” he said.
Shah added that after returning from the CCI meeting, he called a meeting of the provincial cabinet which approved an additional subsidy of Rs9.30/kg for sugar export, following which the millers began the crushing season.
“The crushing has started with my constant and untiring struggle,” the CM maintained. The provincial cane commissioner told the chief minister that there were 38 sugar mills in the province, of which six were not going to operate this year, while the rest have started crushing. “They are purchasing sugar cane and growers are providing them cane at the price of Rs130 to Rs140 per 40 kg, as the price varies from district to district,” he said. It should be noted that the government has set the official procurement price at Rs182 per 40 kg.
However, the growers’ representatives said that the Rs130 to Rs140 price did not suit them. According to them, the expenses incurred on cultivating sugar cane that weighs 40 kg comes up to more than Rs70. Harvesting, transportation from field to mill and wasted crops can cost up to an additional Rs40 to Rs45. This brings the total cost per 40 kg to about Rs115.
“In this way, we are either virtually selling our crop at a loss or at breakeven price despite incurring huge expenditures on sugarcane cultivation,” the representatives said. They warned that the cultivation of sugar cane could decline next year in the province and ultimately come to an end because the growers had decided to switch over to other crops.
Speaking about their protest march earlier this week, the growers conceded that some political parties were trying to capitalise on their demands. “We are not a political party. We are only struggling for the rights of small, medium and big growers so that they can get a better price for their crop,” they said.
On Monday, hundreds of growers had tried to march toward Bilawal House to demand that the government set higher procurement prices for their crop, blocking traffic in the area. Police tried to negotiate with the farmers, but when they refused to budge, the force resorted to the use of tear gas, batons and water cannons to disperse them. Several farmers were also detained, but Home Miniser Sohail Anwar Siyal later ordered that they be released.
At Friday’s meeting, the growers informed the CM that this year sugar cane has been cultivated on more than 700,000 acres, and production is expected to be around 420 tonnes. Moreover, in light of the government’s subsidy for millers, they proposed that the CM announce a subsidy of Rs12 per 40 kg for farmers and ask the millers to pay Rs170 per 40 kg to growers.
The CM said the provincial government’s financial health was not good enough to start giving subsidies to farmers along with millers, but added that his government would meet with growers again to work out proposals. “We want to end this deadlock at any cost,” he said.