Sugarcane farmers march to Kathmandu as their dues keep on pilingThere are around 15,000 farmers engaged in commercial sugarcane farming in Sarlahi alone.
Rajesh Yadav, a sugarcane farmer from Ramnagar Rural Municipality in Sarlahi, arrived in Kathmandu two weeks ago to protest against the government after he was denied payment of Rs1 million for his crop which he had supplied to the sugar mills on different occasions.
The thirty-six-year-old Yadav, a sole bread owner to 12 members of his family, has not received payment for his crop for the last two years. “We have been involved in sugarcane farming for generations and it’s our major source of income,” he told the Post. “Every year, the sugar mills promise to settle the payment, but they never do.”
This year, the sugar mill where he had been supplying the cane announced that it was shutting down.
Like Yadav, hundreds of farmers in Sarlahi are worried. The best way they thought was to exert pressure on the government. On Sunday, a group of farmers started protesting against the government for being indifferent to them. “Some farmers returned to their village due to the severe cold here. But we will keep pressuring the government,” said Yadav.
He argued that factory owners have been investing the money earned from sugar production in other areas due to which they are not paying to farmers. “The factory owners made an agreement that they will make payment till mid-November, but that was false,” he said.
Kapil Muni Mainali, president of Nepal Sugarcane Producers Federation, said that Annapurna Sugar Mill, Shree Ram Sugar Mill, Mahalaxmi Sugar Mill and three other sugar mills in Nawalparasi have shut down their operations. “The factory owners have been saying that they will not be able to operate the factories if they make payment to the farmers,” he said.
Factory owners had promised farmers that they will clear their dues in instalments but farmers said they cannot trust the mill owners.
An ad-hoc committee formed to exert pressure on the government and the sugar producers have been demanding that they should get Rs471.28 a quintal, the rate fixed by the government for the last year’s harvest and the subsidy amount of Rs1 billion allocated to them by the government.
Farmers have complained that Mahalaxmi and Annapurna have been paying only Rs435 per quintal.
Sashi Kant Agrawal, president of Sugar Producers Association, said that the domestic sugar mills have not been able to sell their product following the flood of imports from India and Pakistan two years ago.
“The sugar import from India has not stopped yet. It is entering the country both legally and illegally as the Indian government has provided a subsidy of Rs18 per kg in the export.”
“Unless the import stops, the sugar producers will not be able to pay farmers,” he said. He said that factories have been running in losses and are not able to make payment.
He added that the government needs to prepare a payment schedule for farmers and make payments accordingly to resolve the sugarcane farmer issue.
Many farmers said they are in trouble as mills have not paid them for the last 4-5 years.
According to Mainali, Annapurna Sugar Mills owes Rs500 million in dues to farmers which started piling up in the last four years. Similarly, Shree Ram Sugar Mills has outstanding dues worth Rs420 million, Mahalaxmi Sugar Mill owes Rs200-210 million and three sugar mills in Nawalparasi still have to settle Rs200 million to the farmers.
According to the association, there are around 15,000 farmers engaged in commercial sugarcane farming in Sarlahi alone including 100,000 farmers in 15 districts.
Dinesh Bhattarai, joint secretary and spokesperson at the Ministry of Industry, Commerce and Supplies, said they sent a letter to the Home Ministry on Sunday to take action against sugar producers who have failed to pay farmers.
He said that separate letters have been sent to the Finance and Agriculture ministries regarding the issue of subsidy amount allocated to the farmers, but the farmers said they still haven't received them.