Agriculture Policy

UP’s Next Government Must Invest in the Sugarcane-based Circular Economy, says Harish Damodaran

Cane harvester in action, Sangli. By Vivian Fernandes

Uttar Pradesh’s next government must invest in the sugarcane-based circular economy, says Harish Damodaran in an op-ed article in the 5 February edition of The Indian Express. It can take the lead by enforcing 12 percent and 15 percent blending of ethanol in petrol for which emission standards have been notified. The UP Power Corporation should pay sugar mills for power generated from sugarcane bagasse. They are currently being owed Rs 300 cr, he says.

Damodaran questions whether sugarcane is actually a water guzzler as some economists have termed and derided it. He says UP has abundant canal water from the rivers that run through it. These rivers recharge the underground aquifers. In the eastern part there is plentiful rainfall. Cane is a 11-12 month crop; so cannot be compared with water-guzzling paddy which matures in four to five months. Sugarcane greens keep cattle fed in the winter months. The water extracted from cane juice while producing sugar is, after treatment, used to produce steam in boilers, and then returned for irrigation. Bagasse fires the boilers. The press mud is used to generate bio-gas and also to enrich the soil.

Damodaran says UP’s cane economy has been developed by successive governments starting with that of Mulayam Singh, who as Chief Minister, raised the state’s cane crushing capacity from four lakh tonnes per day in 2003-04 to more than seven lakh tonnes per day by 2006-07.  Currently, the state’s 120 sugar mills have an installed crushing capacity of 7,87,275 tonnes per day. The Adityanath government has make the state an ethanol-producing hub. Between 2016-17 and 2020-21, the state’s ethanol output has more than doubled from 43.25 cr litres to 107.21 cr litres. As Chief Minister, Mayawati raised the cane price by Rs 120 a quintal between 2007 and 2012; this is more than the hikes given by the succeeding Akhilesh Yadav and Adityanath governments (Rs 65 and Rs 35 a quintal, respectively).  The state now has 75 distilleries.

The sugarcane economy got a boost from the cane variety Co-0238 developed by Bakshi Ram of ICAR’s Sugarcane Research Institute. Since its introduction in 2012-13 it has replaced other varieties and covers 85 percent of the state’s sugarcane acreage. This variety yields 80 tonnes per hectare and has a sugar recovery rate of 11.5 percent. Previously, the state’s average cane productivity was 60 tonnes per hectare and the recovery rate was 9.5 percent.

Damodaran says the state produces 200 million tonnes of cane a year and about 2.5 million cane farmers are dependent on it. If those working in the  fields and the mills are counted, the crop supports about 20 million persons or one in 12 of the state’s 240 million population.

An ethanol-based economy can not only save India some of the dollars it spends on importing crude oil but also be the base for an alcohol-based chemical industry.

(Photo: a cane harvester in action. By Vivian Fernandes)