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Statewide farmer stir looms as Centre moves to arm sugar factories with harvesting machines

40 machines already purchased by mills; over 2 lakh farmers employed as sugarcane harvesters fear loss of livelihood

The woes of farmers in the state, who are already debt-ridden, may increase in the coming months as most of the sugar factories that employ them for harvesting sugarcane from the fields are opting for sugar harvesting machines.


Bitter development: Cane is transported to sugar factories after
harvesting. Farmers working as harvesters say they are staring at
joblessness as sugar units are going for mechanised harvesting.
Pic/Krunal Gosavi


More than two lakh farmers who work as sugarcane harvesters might become jobless if the proposal of the Union Agriculture Ministry for providing harvesting machines to the factories at a cost of Rs 100 crore is passed. This year the government has proposed to deliver about 130 machines, out of which 40 machines have already been bought by some of the factories on a trial basis.

Some of factory owners who have already placed orders say that the machines, which are imported from Europe, will be more efficient and swift, unlike manual labour, and result in higher profits. The machine can harvest almost 200 tonnes of canes per day while 10 workers will be required to produce the same quantity.

Gathering storm
Farmers, especially from the western parts of the state, who are already feeling the pinch, have planned to hold a statewide agitation against the government's move under the supervision of Maharashtra Sugarcane Cutting Workers and Transporters Union and Oostod Kamgaar Sanghatna. The protest plan across several districts near the city is already gaining momentum as farmers say the sugarcane factories and the state government always had issues paying them wages.

Somnath Batule, a farmer who has been harvesting sugarcane since past 40 years in Solapur district, said, "Since the monsoon is comparatively lower in places such as Beed, Dhulia, Parbhani and Jalna, the cultivation is less, we go to other districts across the state to transport sugarcanes to factories. We work for almost six months on the fields before returning to our villages. Some factories have already told us that they do not need our services as they have already started using the machines."

Baburao Gaikwad, another farmer from Beed said, "The government is inconsiderate. We don't earn more than
Rs 400-500 per day for toiling in the fields. We'll simply lose our livelihood." P Thackerey, assistant manager of Saikrupa Sakhar Karkhana Ltd, said: "We have purchased three harvesters and are slowly informing the farmers about it. Though it will take at least another month before the machines can be put to use. We are not concerned about farmers as everything is getting mechanised now, and with these machines we would be making extra profits."

Ajit Chowgale the managing director of Maharashtra State Co-operative Sugar Factories Federation Ltd said, "The resolution is yet to be released, the government is yet to decide whether to dole out machines to all the factories." 

He added that one machine would produce 200 tonnes of canes per day and in six months it would produce 36,000 tonnes that would result in about 2,70,000 tonnes of sugar. "The demand for sugar is around 8 lakh tonnes so there is no question of farmers becoming unemployed," he said.  

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