Sugarcane is just not paying | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, May 03, 2020 / LAST MODIFIED: 01:40 AM, May 03, 2020

Sugarcane is just not paying

Growers leaving occupation due to poor payment by sugar mills; 15 factories owe them Tk 250cr

For the last one month, sugarcane farmer Abdul Salam has not received a penny from the state-owned Mobarakganj Sugar Mill in Jhenaidah district's Kaliganj upazila.

He supplied sugarcane worth Tk 4.5 lakh to the mill in batches between December and mid-March and only received a total of Tk 1 lakh in installments.

"The latest installment of Tk 5,300 was paid through mobile banking on March 22," Abdul told the Daily Star on April 28.

"I already used the Tk 1 lakh to repay loans and other dues. Now I have nothing left to feed my family during this shutdown," said the farmer from Kaliganj's Gobordanga village.

Mahedi Hasan, another sugarcane grower from Chhoto Ghighati village, received only Tk three lakh out of Tk 10 lakh that the mill owes him.

"I do not know when I would get the rest of the dues. I am borrowing money from different people to feed my family," he said, declaring that he will never cultivate sugarcane again.

It takes almost a year to cultivate sugarcane and farmers often have to wait two to three months to receive payment from the sugar mills, he explained.

Like Abdul and Mahedi, around two lakh sugarcane growers have been waiting for months for their dues from 15 state-owned sugar mills in the country.

Although most mills completed this year's sugarcane crushing by January, they have not paid the farmers in full.

Mozaharul Haque Prodhan, president of Bangladesh Sugar Mill Farmers Federation, said the 15 sugar mills in total owe around Tk 250 crore to all the sugarcane growers in the country.

Before the shutdown began, his organisation sat with the chairman of Bangladesh Sugar and Food Industry Corporation (BSFIC) about payment of the farmers' dues.

At the meeting, the chairman of BSFIC said the dues would be paid upon sale of sugar, recounted Mozaharul, also the lawmaker of Panchagarh-1.

Managing directors of several mills, wishing anonymity, told the Daily Star that BSFIC instructed them to pay the farmers by selling sugar, as the mills have been incurring losses every year.

Till last year, the total accumulated loss of all state-run sugar mills had been Tk 7,000 crore, of which Tk 1,008 crore was for 2018-2019, said a source in BSFIC.

None of the mills ever made any profit since their inception, he added.

Officials of BSFIC said at least 14,07,139 tonnes of sugarcane worth Tk 495.56 crores have been procured from farmers at the start of the 2019-20 crushing season by all 15 mills.

At present, the mills have 64,000 tonnes of unsold sugar worth Tk 385 crore at the warehouses. Of the annual demand for Tk 1,008 crore tonnes sugar in the country, only 65,000 tonnes are produced by the mills. The rest are imported, said the officials.

Demand for refined imported sugar is much higher than the local variety, they added.

Meanwhile, because of slow payment by the mills, growers are losing interest in producing sugarcane.

"Sugarcane cultivation area dropped by almost 60 percent in the last ten years due to the slow payment system," said Wahid Karim, president of Natore district Sugarcane Growers Association.

Although Dinajpur and Thakurgaon sugar mills paid 95 percent of their dues to farmers, Natore and North Bengal sugar mills still owe Tk 74 crore to local sugarcane growers.

Abdul Karim, president of Sugarcane Growers Association of Natore Sugar Mill, said most growers in the district are suffering because of the delay in bill payment.

"We don't know how to force the authorities to pay our dues under the current condition," he said, adding that unlike previous years they cannot hold demonstrations amidst the shutdown demanding payment.

Sanat Kumar Saha, chairman of Bangladesh Sugar and Food Industry Corporation (BSFIC), told The Daily Star over the phone on April 27 that BSFIC has sought funds from the government to pay the farmers' bills.

"It is not possible [to pay the farmers] until BSFIC gets funds from the government," he said.

[Bulbul Ahmed and Azibor Rahman contributed to this report]


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