The state of sugarcane farming in Bihar  

Nawal K Pandey


The sugarcane is the cash crop for farmers but it could also the life line of industrial growth of the State.  Notwithstanding sugar being its main product in demand, its byproducts like alcohol and ethanol are as important and more in demand. Even the waste of the sugarcane like bagasse can be used to make card boards and coarse paper. Moreover, sugar factories could be used to generate much needed electricity at the fraction of the cost. Therefore, we can easily conclude that sugarcane industry is vital for the industrial development of Bihar.
However, sugarcane is a product, harvested yearly for at least two years. Fist year's crop generally yields more than the second year's crop.  From planting to harvesting; and transporting to the factory, sugarcane production is labor intensive as well as  capital. Farmers toil hard to produce sugarcane but the problem of dilapidated sugar factories and availability of credit worries them. Still, the farmers take the risk.  
Bihar was once the bastion of sugarcane factories. Labor was cheap, land was  virgin and facilities, though rudimentary, were in working condition. It was possible then for farmers to make money because in old days farmers were big landlords with abundance of land. They made money by planting large amount of sugarcane. It would be suffice to say that quantity sugar plantation and cheap labor yielded profit rather than efficiency and productivity. 
Some Big landlords are still there but land ceiling and labor regulations have placed a damper on their profit. Although they have cut down sugar farming, the influx of small farmers in the mix have kept the sugarcane farming unbridled. Now a days, the farming is mostly the business of small farmers who plant sugarcane to get cash and make living.  They are the backbone of sugar industry but they are also the victim of their own resilience.
The culture of love for land and need to raise cash necessitates small farmers  to plant sugarcane. The lack of capital is the biggest  hurdle for small farmers. Even if the Bank credit is available to them, obdurate officers make it harder for small farmers to get credit . Consequently, they  turn to private money lenders and loan sharks. Still they are unmoved. Neither the onslaught of draught nor the lack of capital not even the dilapidated condition of sugar refineries moves them. Unbeknownst to them, their hopefulness victimizes them. They hope that God will send them rain when there is draught. They hope as well that sugar factories will operate even if they are broken down.  Above all, they hope that government will intervene to alleviate their problems. They do not give up even if none of these things happen. They stay alive on hopes that things would get better.
The problems facing the sugarcane industry is not new. It has been there since  independence; but it has gone  from bad to worse.  Lack of land reform, non-availability of farm credit, lack of irrigation facilities for both arable and non-arable land and dilapidated condition of sugar factories are some of the problems facing the sugarcane farmers. The biggest problem of all is the condition of factories. The factories that were built in late 1920's and 1930 are still in operation as the monument of antiquated technology.
In that sense, it is the factories that have problems. In the beginning most of the factories were owned by individual capitalist who used them to make riches without investing money in improvements or repair. They operated the factories until the factories conked out. In the meantime, they used their prowess to get bank credit and government subsidies in the name of serving farmers. They overloaded their factories with so much debt that it became unprofitable to keep the factories running. When they shut down the factory premises, they owed not only to Banks and governments, they owed to farmers too.  Some factory owners sold their properties, some filed bankruptcy while others abandoned them. In all cases, farmers were losers and factories became liabilities to the government. The present state of the sugar cane industry is so outmoded that, without revamping, it would only perpetuate inefficiency and obsolesce.
What the government has to do is to attract modern industrial houses with new incentive to enter the establishment.  Perhaps sugarcane would become a raw material for producing sugar, alcohol, ethanol, electricity and paper products. New machineries and added values would not only make the industry efficient and productive, it would solve the plight of farmers and stop them from burning their own livelihood in protest.