This Article is From Nov 29, 2013

In Karnataka's sugar bowl, bitter protests by farmers over prices

Mandya, Karnataka: A day after a farmer committed suicide right in front of the Karnataka assembly, farmers in the state are threatening to go on an agitation demanding justice for him by way of setting a better price for the sugarcane crop.

In Mandya in southern Karnataka, cane as tall 9-10 feel is waiting for harvest, but the crop won't go the sugar mills just yet. Farmers here say the cost incurred by them for a tonne of sugarcane is between Rs 3000 to Rs 4000. However, the newly set-up Karnataka sugar board has fixed Rs 2500 as the price, which the farmers have rejected.

"The sugar lobby fixes a price and they don't pay up even the basic cost, leave alone profit. The government has to look into this and increase the price. Does the government check whether sugar mills are paying us even that much? Sugar mills are going through losses, they say, but I have not heard of anyone from the factory taking an extreme step. It is the farmer who is dying due to debt," said Marrichenna Gowda, a sugarcane farmer.

Farmers Joware and Rame Gowda have together grown about 40 tonnes of sugarcane this year. The brothers have to repay a loan of Rs 6 lakh for a tractor and a loan of Rs 3 lakh for the crop. Last year, due to severe drought, their debt grew. This year, even after a good crop, the debt won't come down.

"I need one full bag of manure for one tonne crop, the price of manure from Rs 300 a bag is now Rs 1200. How Rs can 2500 or even Rs 3000 a tonne be a realistic for us farmers?" said Joware.

Karnataka crushes nearly 35 million tonnes of sugar a year, which is the third largest after Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra.

Sugarcane is seen as a prosperous crop, however, the recovery is only about 10 per cent - for one tonne of crop, about 100 kg sugar is produced. There has been a gradual yet consistent decline in cane produce - about 20 to 25 per cent dip, and the crisis is pushing India to import that much more sugar.