Pabna sugar cane producers denounce the closure of the neighboring mill
Afsar Ali, a marginal farmer based in the Pabna Sugar Mill watershed in Ishwardi upazila, grew sugarcane on three bighas last year with the aim of selling the crops to the nearby processing plant.
However, due to the government’s sudden decision to shut down six loss-making sugar factories across the country, including one in Pabna, Ali was forced to sell his crops to the North Bengal sugar factories in Natore at the last moment.
After facing these hardships, Ali decided to give up sugarcane cultivation and instead planted various vegetables this year.
However, he laments the loss of the once very profitable crop.
“Sugar cane is more profitable than any other crop because the price of sugar cane never goes down. Vegetable cultivation is comparatively not profitable enough,” Ali said.
Md Ansar Ali Dilu, another sugarcane producer, cultivated sugarcane on 15 bighas of land this year compared to 25 bighas the previous year. He rented the remaining 10 bighas to other farmers.
The income from each sugarcane bigha is around Tk 40,000-50,000, while the sugar factories also provide cash assistance, seeds, fertilizers and insecticides to help improve production.
Dilu expects to get around 6,000 maunds (one maund equals 37 kilograms) of cane this year to earn a minimum of Tk 8 lakh.
To make matters worse, however, he has no marketing facility for the harvest, he added.
“Pabna Sugar Mill denies taking responsibility for our harvest this year. We don’t sell sugar cane in typical haats or other markets, so if the factory authority doesn’t take the crop, we have to destroy it in the field, ”said Dilu, also the secretary. of the Pabna Sugar Mill Farmers Association.
According to the Bangladesh Sugar & Food Industries Corporation (BSFIC), cultivation of sugarcane declined significantly in the 2021-22 season after the closure of six state-owned sugar factories.
During the 2020-21 sugarcane crushing season, 1.27 lakh acres of land were brought into cultivation to produce 16.43 lakh tonnes of sugarcane, according to the BSFIC annual report.
A total of 49,908 acres has been brought into sugarcane cultivation in the watersheds of 15 sugar factories in the current fiscal year, with a planned production target of 6.57 lakh tonnes.
Due to the closure of the six state-owned sugar factories, sugar cane production has declined significantly this year, according to the annual report.
The report blamed negative media coverage of the closure of the mills which has discouraged farmers from growing sugarcane this year.
The Ministry of Industry issued a statement on December 2, 2020, ordering the closure of the six factories because they had suffered prolonged losses.
The factories are Pabna Sugar Mill, Setabganj Sugar Mills, Kushtia Sugar Mills, Panchagar Sugar Mills Ltd, Shyampur Sugar Mill and Rangpur Sugar Mills.
However, the decision to close them just before the grinding season disappointed farmers. Now the farmers are demanding the reopening of the mills for the sake of their livelihoods.
“Sugar mills are the only state-owned agricultural industry for farmers, but the government has stopped production of six sugar mills without considering the interests of farmers,” said Shahjahan Ali Badsha, president of the association of farmers of the Pabna sugar mill. .
With these mills shut down, the machines they once used were abandoned.
During a visit to Pabna Sugar Mill last week, this correspondent discovered that much of the plant’s facilities were wasting away due to lack of maintenance.
Wet conditions cause condensation on machines, which then turns to rust. Since they have not been maintained over the years, most of them will be permanently damaged if the mills are not reopened soon, according to Modon Sarkar, the plant manager.
More than 200 carts, 40 tractors and other vehicles are used to transport the sugar cane. Now the processed sugar is inactive in the mill yard with pests growing on it, he said.
Md Saif Uddin, managing director of Pabna Sugar Mill, said the vehicles would soon be sent to other operating factories.
A total of 269 of the plant’s 589 employees were transferred to other plants within a year of its closure, while the rest will soon be.
“Due to a lack of manpower for the maintenance works of the huge properties, progress has been hampered,” Saif Uddin said.
Established in 1992 at a cost of around Tk 79 crore, Pabna Sugar Mill went into production with an annual production target of 15,000 tonnes of sugar by crushing 1.5 lakh tonnes of sugarcane.
However, the factory never reached full production capacity, resulting in losses of around Tk 400 crore since its inception.