INDIA: Poor monsoon hits cane production and cuts jiggery yields

Published: 02/17/2017, 8:00:34 AM

In Marayur, jaggery production is a round-the-year business. When one field is cleared, sugar cane in the nearby farm will be ready for harvest. The sugar cane fields over nearly 700 hectares is an attraction for visitors to Marayur, according to India's The Hindu newspaper.

But it is a double whammy for sugar cane farmers this year, with the scorching sun and scanty monsoon leading to stunted growth. They say the early drought will take a toll on jaggery production.

There are many fields affected by drought with the groundwater table at a low and water scarce for irrigation.

"Normally, 10 months are enough for harvesting sugar cane. Even after 11 months, the crop is stunted due to absence of water," said P.G. Sojan, a farmer.

 "Normally, drought sets in by March-end and jaggery production will be at a low. Now, the fields ready for harvest are facing the situation. Low atmospheric temperature and rain can have a positive impact on jaggery production. The sugar cane harvested now are not only deficient in juice but also pencil-thin," he said.

Lack of irrigation facility is a major concern for the farmers. Even tender crop is hit, with the main rivers the Pampar, Kanniyar, and the Therthamala drying up.

On the side other side, the prices of jaggery are at a low with a 62-kg sack fetching INR3,000 (US$42). Considering the high labour cost and low productivity, it is an unviable endeavour for farmers.

Akbar Ali, president of the Anjunadu Karimpu Ulpadaka Samithy, said there was a 45% drop in northeast rainfall at Marayur.

Being a rain-shadow area, Marayur and Kanthallur were dependent on northeast monsoon.

He said an acre under favourable conditions could yield 4 tonne of jaggery. However, production had come down to 2.5 to 3 tonne this season, he added.

Without irrigation facilities, it would be difficult for the farmers to retain interest in sugar cane cultivation and area under the crop would come down considerably, he added.

The work on constructing a check-dam at Chattamunnar to irrigate sugar cane had been dragging on for various issues, he said, adding that once the farmers shifted to other crops, it would be difficult to prompt them back to sugar cane farming.