Sugarcane cultivation turns bitter for Chittoor ryots

Of the six sugar factories in the district, four are under closure

With sugar factories landing in trouble one after the other, the cane growers from Chittoor district, considered as the sugar bowl of Rayalaseema, are at their wits’ end as to when they would get their dues and who would buy their produce.

Post-bifurcation, there were 29 sugar factories in Andhra Pradesh, which came down to 12 last year. Of the six in Chittoor district, The Chittoor Sugars and the Sri Venkateswara Sugars near Tirupati, both in the cooperative sector, have been non-functional since long. Of the four private factories, the ones at Buchinaidu Kandriga and Punganur have been under lockout. The Sri Rangaraja Puram factory is doing fairly well, while the one at Nindra, which is enduring tremendous financial crisis, has narrowly escaped auction of its machinery by getting an interim court order this week.

The government scheduled the auction for September 10, but the factory sought more time and finally secured an interim court order. “We will wait for the final order and proceed with the auction process by getting the stay vacated,” Assistant Cane Commissioner M. John Victor told The Hindu.

Farmers, who supplied cane to Buchinaidu Kandriga and Nindra factories, have to get ₹30 crore and ₹37.6 crore respectively. “The first one declared lockout last year and its properties are being auctioned, but the latter one is resisting such an attempt,” says Avula Srinivas Yadav, general secretary of the Cane Growers’ Association (Nindra Zone).

A study of the cane sector shows that neither the farmers nor the factories are happy with the output. Monsoon vagaries apart, the major problems plaguing the industry are the perennial pendency in settlement of dues and plummeting of sugar price in the open market over the last decade. This has led to a drastic shrinkage in cane acreage, with majority of the farmers now looking for lucrative and less risky crops. “I stopped growing cane a decade ago as it was no longer remunerative,” opines Mangati Gopal Reddy, State president of Federation of Farmers’ Associations (FFA).

Labour problem

Being a labour intensive crop, cane farmers incur huge cost esepcially during the harvesting. With local workers lacking the expertise, the farmers depend on importing workforce that comes at a premium. A farmer spends between ₹750 and ₹1,200 per tonne on labour. Smaller harvesters are the need of the hour, as larger ones are unable to manoeuvre the small landholdings. The factories can explore ancillary units to make ethanol and by-products to shore up revenues. It may be recalled that the co-generation units set up over the last decade had eaten away precious resources, instead of contributing to the factories’ profit.

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