Jaggery production threatened existence of sugar mills

Laraib Athar

My husband has decided to make jaggery himself instead of giving the sugarcane crop to sugar mills this year. Farida Bibi said while running a sugarcane in a large cauldron, in which molasses syrup was being cooked.

Making molasses is a better job than the price we are getting from sugar mills. As much as my husband and I work, we don’t get rewarded as much as we deserve. What do we owe? Based on this, we have decided to install a jaggery making machine, now we will extract jaggery and we will be much happier. Farida was still talking to me when his husband started the generator, and started making sugarcane juice which was being extracted by running a machine.

Farida Bibi and Rehman Kaka hail from Charsadda and they own five acres of land and do farming together, “Last year our sugarcane crop was good but the sugar mill owners ran the mill late so our sugarcanes dried up. We spend so much on sugarcanes but get nothing, it takes 10,000 seeds per acre, then fertiliser, agricultural drugs, tractor and labour costs are separate and in the end nothing is saved.’’ Rehman kaka said while collecting juice in a big empty container, and then poured it into the Kadhai.

This was the indigenous method of making jaggery.

Premier Sugar Mills Mardan was the largest sugar mill in Asia in 1949, the construction of this sugar mill started before the creation of Pakistan and it had its first crushing in 1949, but now the sugar mill runs one day and has to be closed the next day, due to lack of sugarcane supply, because the farmers are prioritizing making molasses. According to Jameel Khanzada, former general manager of Premier Sugar Mills Mardan (new manager is not hired yet).

Jameel Khanzada said, Mardan district produces 8 to 10 million tons of sugarcane while the requirement of the mill is 400,000 tons of sugarcane, if the mills still get four lakh tonnes of sugar, eight lakh bags of sugar can be produced, which will help to overcome the sugar crisis and also will benefit the government exchequer in terms of tax collection.

At present we are buying little by little from four to five districts, which is very expensive due to transportation. The effort is to keep the mill running, but even so it runs one day and stops the other day.

Sugarcane farmers in the area prefer to make molasses instead of giving their crop to sugar mills, they say that the price of molasses is high while the sugar mill owners buy sugarcane at a very low price from us. On the other hand, sugar mill owners say that due to shortage of sugarcane, the mill runs one day and has to shut down the next day. If they get sugarcane as per requirement, the sugar crisis in the country can be reduced.

My father, grandfather and even myself used to always sell my sugarcane to Mardan Sugar Mill, but some time ago the owner started to harass me and other farmers a lot, did not give money, so from 2018 i started selling my sugarcane to Mardan Jaggery makers and received 100% more benefits than the sugar mill Mardan. This was said by 40-year-old Shaukat Batiani, a resident of Malakand and a sugarcane farmer.

Batiani further said that in 2018, me and some other fellow farmers had gone to the Supreme Court against Mardan Sugar Mill, at that time Saqib Nisar was the Chief Justice.

Saqib Nisar asked the owner of Mardan Sugar Mill to pay all the remaining money to farmers, otherwise we will take control of the sugar mill.

Further batiani said that we added in court that the owner of the Mardan sugar mill is not ready to pay Rs 180 per maund, saying that if he gives Rs 180 to us, he will not be a man’s child. On which the Chief Justice said that we will call the owner of the Sugar Mill Mardan, and will ask him the matter, the official rate will be decided later, at present, the mill owners should pay at the rate of 180. We will look into the matter later, it is possible to inquire about the matter from the session judges. Batiani added, further he said that even after that there was no significant difference, then i never sold my sugarcane to Mardan Sugar Mill after that nor will I sell it in the future, I am very happy with the Jaggery making owners.
While the owner of the sugar mill said that I never received any court notice from Saqib Nisar or the Supreme Court, I don’t know about it.And when i filed the RTI for the record of court cases to Mardan Sugar Mill legal team, so according to information received from them:

“We don’t have any case of Supreme Court and Saqib Nisar in our record, we are listing the cases running in Peshawar Court.
Cases related to Grower and Sugar Cane to the Premier Sugar Mill & Distillery Com. Ltd. Mardan

1). In WP No.5276-P/2020 Premier Sugar Mills Vs Govt of KPK and Others Premier Sugar Mills And Distillery Com. Ltd Mardan filed a writ petition before Peshawar High Court Peshawar in which the Grower Associations i.e. President of Anjuman Kashkaran and President of Gur Mandies Association impleaded as a necessary party to defend, the Company has challenge to Impose the Gurr Control Act 1948 and Sugar Factories Control Act 1950 along with other Act, which is pending for disposal.

2). In WP No.419-P/2021 titled Premier Sugar Mills Vs Govt of KPK and others the payment to cane growers through bank account, the Provincial Govt KPK through Industries, Commerce and technical Education has issued a Notification dated 15-June 2021 for payments to the growers, without the consultation and illegal manner, which is pending before Peshawar High Court Peshawar.

3). In WP No.420-P/2021 titled Premier Sugar mills Vs Govt of KPK and other the progress and outcome of the action against the illegal agents and middlemen under KPK sugar factories control 1950 and to punished the unlicensed agent and middleman’s u/s 21 and 22 of KPK Sugar Factories Control Act 1950, and to take action against the illegal agent growers violates S-17 of the Sugar Factories Control Act 1950 which pending before Peshawar High Court Peshawar
On the other hand, Rizwan Khan, a merchant of Mardan, who deals in molasses told, the sugarcane farmers were preferring to make molasses instead of giving sugarcane to the sugar mill, because the price of molasses is high.

He said that there are thousands of Jaggery production areas in Mardan district where thousands of tons of molasses are produced annually which is not only sold here but goes to Punjab as well.

He added: “The molasses business runs throughout the year in our Jaggery areas while the sugarcane season is from October to April.” He further added that now the price of 32 dari i.e. 115 kg bags of molasses in the market is more than 20 thousand and compared to this, the sugar mill gives a very low price to the farmer.

Former Chief Minister Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Mahmood Khan said, when i asked him about the matter that, we are active against illegal profiteers, we have approved the Sugar Factory Control Amendment Bill. According to the Bill, the transfer of funds between the landowners and sugar mill owners will be through the bank and if the amendment of bill is not complied, the sugar mill owner will be imprisoned for three years and fined up to Rs.50 lakh, as an offence for violating the law.

The bill also includes that the transfer of funds between the landowners and sugar mill owners will be through the bank and in case of non-payment to the landowners within the specified period, the Sugarcane commissioner will be authorised to recover the amount from the sugar mills owner.

Khanzada said that the government has controlled sugar prices, but there is no control over molasses and the price of molasses is also high.

“We definitely don’t want Jaggery places to be closed because if all the farmers supplied their sugarcanes to sugar mills, so our mills are not in a position to crush all the sugarcanes so we support jaggery places as well.”

Further he said that the landlords should keep in mind that the employment of our employees is related to sugarcane and when these mills are closed due to non-availability of sugarcane, these people will be affected. He further said, since Jaggery is a local industry, they do not pay taxes etc on it, while we are subject to government duties and taxes, so it is very difficult for us to compete with them.
“We have started a new program for landlords, which will provide interest-free loans, fertilisers and good quality seeds so that people can produce more and build good relations with our landlords.” He said.

Awais Yousafzai, a resident of Rashkai, farmer of sugarcane, says that from one maund of sugarcane, we earn about 400 or 500 rupees, while they get only 200 rupees from the mill.

Awais added, “If the mill owners are paying good rates, we will be spared the hard work of making jaggery. If not, we cannot give sugar to the mills because Ijara (renting land for cultivation) is expensive and the wages of the workers have also increased along with the price, so we cannot afford to sell our sugarcanes on low price to sugar mills.

One of Govt official without mentioning his name said that we are working on it since 2020 when Ex Prime Minister Imran Khan had ordered Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan (SECP), Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) and Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) to launch an investigation against sugar barons in light of the sugar inquiry commission report so the federal cabinet had approved an action plan against them.

He further said that “we then decided to bring amendments to the Sugar Factories Control Act 1950”, with the amendments the amount of fine over the sugar mills would be increased from Rs10,000 to Rs 100,000. The amendments are aimed at resolving the problems of farmers in the crushing season and to ensure timely payments but the implementation is still in process because of some confidential reasons.

Jameel Khanzada said that Farmers should give 30 percent of sugarcane to the mills, he said that sugarcane is cultivated on 75 thousand acres in Mardan district which produces 37 lakh tons of sugarcane while 5 lakh tons of sugarcane is required to run the mills. So farmers let the mills run because if the mills are closed, not only more than 400 employees will be laid off, but the price of jaggery will come down drastically, which will be the loss of the farmers as well.

We do not want Mardan Sugar Mills to be closed. He also demanded the government to abolish 17/18 percent sales tax so as to give relief to the farmers. So that the mills remain operational during the crush season, which will not only strengthen the economy but also benefit the farmers.

Dr. Barkat Khan, director of Institute of Research of sugarcane seed production in Mardan district said, the government should formulate a policy under which agricultural lands are protected from settlements so that the people of the province can get food in the future and be secure from shortages.

He further said that compared to other provinces of Pakistan, there has been a decrease in sugarcane cultivation in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa since 2005. He said that Punjab produced an average of 66 tons per acre, Sindh 63 and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa 50 tons.

Dr. Barkat added, “The cultivated land in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa is decreasing day by day, roads and housing societies are being built. At this time, 30 acres of land has been allocated for a girls’ college in Mardan due to which the cultivation of sugarcane is decreasing.

He further said that, “In the current season too, the sugar mills were operated late, not only the farmers were affected but also the related workers remained unemployed.” According to him, the employment of two and a half lakh workers is involved in the steps from sugarcane harvesting to access to sugar mills. Last year, there was a dispute between farmers and sugar mill owners over the determination and implementation of sugarcane rates. Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government fixed the official price of sugarcane last year at 180 rupees per maund, but due to the tense situation, many farmers limited cultivation.