Monday, December 6, 2021

Embittered by mills, flood-hit farmers find jaggery sweeter than sugar

HYDERABAD: Sugarcane farmers in flood-hit areas of Mirpurkhas and parts of Tharparkar and Umerkot districts are undecided whether to set up their own gur (jaggery) manufacturing units or sell their damaged product to independent jaggery-makers.

Hajan Leghari, a farmer of Village Kandri Leghari near Jhudo town, says for the first time many people have installed a large number of new jaggery-making units along the main road from Mirpurkhas to Naokot and Mithi, where they buy sugarcane for making this product.

The farmers prefer to supply their flood-tainted sugarcane to jaggery factories instead of wasting time to continue supplying to mills.

The floods of 2020 had inundated all crops, including sugarcane standing on a wide area.

These farmers used to supply sugarcane to mills, but this year they are doubtful about the flood-tainted product, believing mills might reject the crop or pay low rates.

Therefore, they preferred to sell the product to jaggery makers, because of their high demand.

Gul Muhammad Leghari, another farmer from Village Mandhri near Jhudo town, who has established jaggery unit with other farmers at famous Gul Mori stop along Mithi-Naukot road, said they were buying sugarcane in bulk to continue the work till March, because they could not afford to operate this unit in the summer heat.

“We take sugarcane at reasonable rates for making jiggery, which has a demand locally,” Leghari said, adding that farmers this year were also seen reluctant to supply sugarcane to mills because of flood-damaged product.

He said his family had been cultivating sugarcane for cooking gur on their own instead of supplying their crop to mills for a long time, but due to persistent water scarcity the tail-end farmers were quitting this tradition.

The water problems have disrupted their traditional business of making jaggery 15-16 years back. Looking to this they have established their new jaggery units near sugarcane producing areas to revive the traditional business as they can buy cane at reasonable rates there.

Previously they used bullocks for crushing the cane to extract juice, now jaggery-makers use machines for the same purpose.

The gur manufacturing units are set up in the open fields, providing easy access to traders to have fresh product. Many people have also set up makeshift stalls along roadsides to sell the product.

You may see a queue of vehicles of buyers looking to purchase fresh jaggery near these units and stalls. Some people prefer to buy cooked juice for preparing other products at homes.

These gur-makers can produce 7-8 kg gur from one maund of sugarcane and sell it at Rs110-150/kg, depending on the area and quality.

Many disappointed sugarcane producers have switched to other crops like wheat, cotton, and vegetables because of the monopoly of sugar mills, which pay low rates and delay payments to sugarcane producers.

That is why many people have installed their own units where small scale sugarcane producers look comfortable to supply their product instead of going to mills.

Ghulam Hussain Khaskheli, a small scale farmer from Naokot sharing his experiences, said previously many families used to have these gur-making units near there for using their product purposefully. But now the uncertainty in the irrigation water system has disrupted the old culture, leaving farmers in a helpless situation.

Sindh has a famous gur mandi in Mahrabpur town in Naushehro Feroz district. Because there is a large number of local gur manufacturing units in the neighbourhood. They supply the product to the entire country.

But now the people, having a close eye on the changing scenario, said presently Mirpurkhas district had also become a prosperous market for gur, because the demand is growing day after day.

The other areas for manufacturing gur include Khairpur, Nawabshah, parts of Sanghar and other sugarcane producing districts where farmers are utilising the product effectively.

A majority of small-scale farmers prefer to supply their product to gur manufacturers instead of sugar mills because of trust deficiency in terms of ensuring government-fixed rates and timely payment against the product.

Mostly sugarcane producers are aware about the everlasting dispute between sugarcane growers and sugar millers over the rates, timely payment and setting the schedule of crushing season. That is why growers avoid this botheration and hate to hang in balance for a long time.

Besides the food processing industry for confectionery items, many restaurants and local tea stalls also use gur for their customers because of growing demand.

Elderly people still advise their successors to eat little pieces of gur after every meal, considering it good for maintaining health. Despite growing demand for gur, leading sugarcane growers see no charm in this emerging industry, believing existing jaggery units do not have a capacity to take more yield for the product.

Thus they seem reluctant to supply their yield to these units saying only mills have the capacity to buy the entire yield they produce.

Source: The News

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