Agriculture | Crops |

Sugarcane- Cultivating the sweet bounty of India

Sugarcane is an industrial crop that has such extensive uses in a variety of industries. It is one such crop that is used completely from top to bottom, from producing sugar to generation of energy. The origin of the earliest variants of sugarcane can be traced back to around 5,000-6,000 years ago. Since then sugarcane has been used as an economic tool as there was no viable alternative to sugar as yet.

Sugarcane Uses

Sugar and fermented products from sugarcane fulfill various purposes of making and preserving syrups, liquid etc. Sugarcane juice is used to make white sugar, jaggery (gur), and products such as molasses and bagasse. These byproducts can be further used as a fuel or for producing fibre boards, plastic, and paper etc. Molasses is an important part of the process of manufacturing ethyl alcohol, butyl alcohol etc. The remaining parts can be used as fodder and as manure.

Employment

The sugarcane industry provides direct and indirect employment to over 6 million Indians, directly in the form of farmers and labourers, and indirectly in the form of sugar factory workers amongst others. It covers about 5.14 million hectares of farmland. The gains are more substantial with exports to Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Somalia, Indonesia, and United Arab Emirates.

Production and Productivity

India is the second largest producer of sugarcane in the world with annual production of about 360 million tonnes in the year 2014-15 according to the Agricultural Statistics 2014-15, Ministry of Agriculture & Farmers Welfare of the Government of India. In India, sugarcane is an important crop for it has a variety of by-products which are used intensively all over the India, and in the world. India is also one of the largest exporters of sugar all over the world.

However, the scenario in sugarcane cultivation presents an interesting fact. Uttar Pradesh (138.48 million tonnes), the top producer of sugarcane in the country, and Maharashtra (81.87 million tonnes), the second highest producer, do not even come close to the productivity levels of Karnataka (41.90 million tonnes), which has a productivity of 93,100 kg/ hectare. Despite UP’s larger production, the productivity level is much lower at 62,154 kg/ hectare while Maharashtra is at 78,120 kg/ hectare.

Cultivation

Sugarcane is a long duration crop and hence can be grown in all the seasons – although it grows best in the tropical hot sunny areas.It requires long, warm season with adequate sunlight and rainfall during the growing phase and a sunny and cool season for ripening and harvesting. However, frost is detrimental to sugarcane’s growth. In India, sugarcane is planted around three times in a year, i.e. in October, in February-March and in July. In North India, it is usually planted around spring, while as we move downwards, the time changes to December-February. In Maharashtra, it is usually done around July. Since sugarcane grows all over the world, it is susceptible to different pests that can wreak havoc. Some of these pests are, early shoot borer, top borer, internode borer, termites, scale insect, pyrilla, smut, whitefly, red rot, wilt, etc.

In the recent times, a lot of innovation is being done to increase the productivity of the sugarcane. By use of improved seeds which are resistant to pests or area specific diseases, and by the use of drip irrigation methods, the productivity has received a push in certain states.

Endnote
No other commercial crop is as useful as sugarcane is, and with such varied uses, it is certainly a revenue and employment generation sector. With a boost in proper techniques and innovation, this has the potential to create further opportunities.

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