Cane growers in north India are poised to shift to more profitable varieties for the first time in two decades.
The new breeds — three of them — will give 10 tonnes more cane per hectare, pushing country’s yield to match that of Brazil, the world’s biggest cane and sugar producer.
The Co238, Co239 and Co118 varieties have been developed at the Coimbatore-based Sugarcane Breeding Institute.
India is the world’s largest consumer and the second-largest producer of sugar.
Dwindling yields — 55-60 tonnes per hectare — are one of the reasons why output tanks after every three years of a glut.
The country is currently facing a shortage. Domestic production is sugar set to fall to 16 million tonnes (mt) against an annual demand of 23 mt, which means India will import heavily through 2009-10. Sugar prices have jumped nearly 200 per cent since 2007. The agriculture ministry notified the new varieties, hailed by millers too, in February. The Sugar Technologists’ Association of India (STAI) ran tests and gave the all-clear last month.
“The trials involved 27 millers across 4,000 hectares in Uttar Pradesh,” said G.S.C. Rao, who heads the STAI. The new varieties are adopted from the breeding institute’s Karnal facility in Haryana.
These varieties were developed particularly for north, which has more cane-growing areas but produces less sugar due to agro-climatic reasons. For instance, UP grows 55-60 per cent of the cane in the country but adds only 35 per cent to India’s sugar produce. Maharashtra though grows 30 per cent of the cane manufactures 35 per cent of the sugar produced in the country. “If northern cane-growing states fail, they drag down the entire output,” said P.K.N. Singh, member of Bihar cane experts’ panel.
UP’s 4 million growers can hope to make Rs 21,000 more per tonne, considering a 10 tonne increase in yield per hectare and given that growers earn an average of Rs 2,100 profit per tonne, said Rao.