The livelihood of thousands of sugarcane farmers is at stake because of the sudden closure of six state-run sugar mills across the country just a few weeks before the harvesting season.
The farmers have to count huge losses as sugarcane on around 450 hectares of land have been left unharvested. If the farmers cannot harvest sugarcane soon, they may miss the next crop cultivation season too.
The six sugar mills are Rangpur Sugar Mill in Gaibandha, Shyampur Sugar Mill in Rangpur, Setabganj Sugar Mill in Dinajpur, Panchagarh Sugar Mill and two sugar mills in Pabna and Kushtia.
Farmers said sugarcane is usually harvested in December-February with the aim of extracting the highest amount of sugar from it. This is owing to the fact that sugarcane dries up at the end of February and becomes dry sticks in March and April.
Mojibur Rahman, a farmer from Shyampur area of Rangpur, said he cultivated sugarcane on 2,640 decimals of land at a cost of over Tk10 lakh, expecting a profit of Tk30-35 lakh. If he cannot supply the sugarcane to the mill within a month, the sugarcane will be wasted on the field.
Abdul Ahad Mia, a farmer from Kishamatpur village in Shyampur area, said he cultivated sugarcane on four acres of land. So far he has spent Tk1 lakh on the cultivation. If he can supply the sugarcane to the mill, he will get a profit of Tk1.5 lakh, excluding expenses.
He also said the sugarcane on his land is 18 months' old and he is quite happy with the 16-17-feet tall sugarcane. However, he is not optimistic about selling the sugarcane as the mills have been shut down.
On the land given over to sugarcane cultivation, according to sources in the mills, thousands of workers are now unemployed as a result of the closure of the sugar mills. With the cessation of sugarcane threshing, there is also a risk of an increase in the prices of sugar and molasses.
The workers have been protesting against the closure of the mills following a government order on 2 December, which noted that production at the sugar mills in the six state-run sugar mills would remain suspended until further notice.
Every day rallies are being held in front of the sugar mills. Sugarcane farmers have also taken to the field, declaring their solidarity with the movement.
Mohammad Bulu Amin, labour leader of Shyampur Sugar Mill, said sugarcane farmers, including 3-4 lakh workers, are suffering due to the sudden closure of the six sugar mills.
Rangpur Deputy Commissioner Asib Ahsan said the mill workers had given a memorandum to the Prime Minister regarding the closure of the sugar mills and the administration had sent it to the ministry concerned. Efforts are being made to solve the problem.
Rangpur Agriculture Extension Department Deputy Director Sarwarul Haque said the target was to cultivate sugarcane on 900 hectares of land in the district. The crop was cultivated on 450 hectares of land this year.
He said farmers are supposed to start planting other crops on the fields by now. However, as he pointed out, there is still time for it. He is hopeful that the problem will be resolved very soon.
Labour leader Balu Amin said a meeting with the minister has been scheduled for 20 December. The leaders of the closed six mills will be present there. They will demand that operations of the mills resume very soon. ***