Industry joins Farmers, NRMC (NABARD) and Research Institutes for Sustainable Sugarcane Initiative

National Seminar on Sustainable Sugarcane Initiative is being organized by AgSri in collaboration with Sugarcane Breeding Institute (Coimbatore) and National Bank for Agriculture Rural Development.
Aug. 22, 2011 - PRLog -- Indian sugar industry anchors 45 million sugarcane growers, cultivating over 42 lakh hectares in India. After rice, sugarcane employs the highest number of labour, of which 60 percent are women. Area under sugarcane in the new crop year that starts in October 2011 is expected to increase by around 8 -10 per cent because of good price to growers, relatively favorable weather. In India owing to various factors the industry face heavy losses. For instance, during the last crushing season ending October 2010, around 300 small and mid-size sugar factories, representing 40 per cent of India’s 24.2 million tonnes of sugar output, faced a financial crisis due to losses in cane crushing (August 15, 2011, Business Standard). The loss for the first eight months during the current crushing season, as estimated by India Sugar Mills Association, is Rs 3,200 crores, at an average of Rs 400 crores per month. Apart from other necessary interventions like policy initiatives and financial support that are needed, it is imperative to increase the productivity levels of sugarcane if the industry is to come out of the red.

Some of the reasons attributing to low production and productivity are a) increasing cost of production, b) lack of consistency in price support system, c) lack of sustainable farm practices and innovative production techniques and e) lack of proper extension support. Particularly, the seed cost and cost of fuel for irrigation are estimated to be about 15 percent and 14 percent respectively of the total cost of cultivation, and this is next only to the labour cost at 21 percent. In order to rescue the farmers and sugar industry from these predicaments, it is necessary to bring in some major changes in the cultivation practices, especially techniques have to be introduced which helps in producing 'more with less'. This is a major challenge and requires very concerted efforts with comparable resources- institutional and financial.

The following are the major issues confronting the farmers as well as the industry-
   Low productivity and low incomes for the growers
   The costs of cane cultivation have risen alarmingly (about 30-35%) for seed/planting material, manures and fertilizers, irrigation, cultural practices and harvesting
   Cultivation Methods - the seed rate is 5 to 8 tonnes/ha and in some states it is much more due to close planting (2.5 feet) adopted by farmers which is about 10-20% of the expected yields of sugarcane
   Despite high seed rate, close planting can only support a population of 25,000 canes per acre (due to high mortality while competing for sunlight and nutrients). The average weight of canes is 0.75 kilogram, thus ending up in an yield level of around 60-70 tonnes/ha
   In irrigated areas water is wastefully consumed in large quantities (150-300 liters/1 kg of cane produced) due to flooding method of irrigation causing huge strain on local ground water resources
   The improved varieties released by research institutions perform well in the initial years but lose their vigor and decline in yield in due course

'Sustainable Sugarcane Initiative' (SSI) is one method that has caught the imagination of all the stakeholders, especially the farmers, because of its proven ability to increase the productivity at reduced inputs.

‘More with Less’

‘More with less’ approach are simple agriculture innovations applied for sugarcane farming using less inputs-water, seed and fertilizers. The approach called Sustainable Sugarcane Initiative (SSI), which has helped over five thousand farmers in India to improve their water productivity by 40%, profits by 30% and reduce their ecological impact. SSI is a “More with Less” methodology for increasing the productivity of sugarcane by changing the management of plants, soil, water and nutrients. This leads to healthier soil and plants supported by greater root growth and the nurturing of soil microbial abundance and diversity.
Sustainable Sugarcane Initiative (SSI)- SSI comprises a set of better agronomic practices that fall under six principles

•   Raising planting stock nursery using single budded cane chips
•   Transplanting young seedlings (25-35 days old)
•   Maintaining wide spacing (5-9 X2 feet) of plants in the main field
•   Providing sufficient moisture and avoiding flooding of field
•   Encouraging organic method of nutrient, better cultural and plant protection measures and
•   Promotion of inter cultivation for effective utilization of land

SSI is spreading fast among the Indian farmers with the support of industries, government and civil society organizations’, though given the number of farmers and sugar mills (571 in India), there is a need to scale up. Considering the importance of Indian sugar industry both for the domestic and international market, SSI has great potential and if adopted on large scale, will play a significant role in the sustainable sugarcane and ethanol production at the global level.  Especially, the conservation practices recommended under SSI hold much importance in these times of climate change induced global warming and weather aberrations, considering the recent UN-World Economic and Social Survey 2011 survey, which quoted findings from WWF-ICRISAT (2009) project for rice production (

Potential Benefits of SSI
•   Sugarcane produced through SSI methodology was found to have 0.5 percent more sugar than the conventional varieties resulting in significant profits for the company.
•   According to the website, the water footprint (water requirement to produce certain quantity of product) for sugarcane is 175 lit per kg of cane or 1500 lit per kg of sugar (at 11% recovery) under furrow irrigation using normal spacing. Water saving according to Jain irrigation website ( is to the tune of 40 to 70 %.
•   The increase in productivity that results in SSI is mainly because of robust root system and vigorous growth of the plant. The quality of cane material produced through SSI is of higher order, which improves other byproducts of sugar production
•   SSI results in enormous seed cane saving and in water productivity.  With the current seed rate of 5 - 8 tonnes per ha depending upon the inter row spacing, the saving could be as high as 4 tonnes at the minimum for every hectare of cane planted, resulting in saving of Rs.4000 crore every year.
•   SSI approaches require less labor than conventional approaches. Moreover it reduces burden of certain functions on women workers.
•   Inter cultivation coupled with reduced inputs enhances profits at household level, which will improve overall well being of farmer household.  

The National Seminar being conducted at Tamil Nadu Agriculture University on 24th and 25th of August, 2011 will go a long way in refining SSI and taking it forward to greater heights through dialogue among various stake holders. The Seminar is sponsored by National Resource Management Centre (NRMC) of NABARD and cohosted by Sugarcane Breeding Institute, Coimbatore and AgSri, Hyderabad. The overall goal of the Seminar is “to improve the cane productivity in India by promoting SSI”.  The invitees include representatives from NABARD, ABI-ICRISAT, Farmer groups, reputed sugar companies, International Finance Corporation, FICCI, Jain irrigation, Drip Tech (US), civil society organizations and scientists from reputed institutions in the country.

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