A handful of sugarcane farmers from Tarai-Madhes are back in Kathmandu protesting yet another delay in the payment of their dues by various sugar mills. Were it not for Covid-19 restrictions, there would have been many more protestors. These farmers have time and again been forced to take to the street as their payments continue to be delayed on various pretexts. Nearly half their dues, which comes to around Rs 400 million, are yet to be cleared even though both the government as well as the sugar mill owners promised to do so by December 2020. Around 6,000 farmers have been affected in Sarlahi district alone.
Mill-owners say they have cleared all dues and there is no point to the farmers’ agitation, a stance that is backed by the central government. Apparently, the farmers have failed to provide concrete proof of the dues that the mills still owe them. The differing perception on payments partly owes to the fact that while the farmers say they were to be paid Rs 536 for a quintal of sugarcane, they only received Rs 500 a quintal. They have accused the mill owners of falsely claiming that the farmers had agreed to the lower price.
Besides Sarlahi, farmers from Nawalparasi (East), Nawalparasi (West), and Rautahat districts have been most affected. As they have repeatedly faced hurdles in getting paid, many sugarcane farmers are no longer cultivating the cash crop. The other persistent problem they face is a shortage of fertilizers. Nor, for that matter, are Nepali sugarcane farmers liable to the kind of subsidies their counterparts in India get. Whatever the case, it is in everyone’s interest to settle the dispute at the earliest.
In the last fiscal year, Nepal imported sugar and confectionery worth Rs 12.26 billion, nearly three times it did in the previous year, which is reason enough to make the country self-sufficient in sugar. But this will be possible only when our farmers are treated and compensated well. Whatever the status of their payment, they have not gotten the kind of support they need to sustainably harvest their crop year in and year out.