Shaktichakra, the wheel of energies

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Posts Tagged ‘sugar cane

The Beed syndrome

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Outline of Beed district, Maharashtra

Outline of Beed district, Maharashtra: 11 talukas, 1,368 villages and population of 2.585 million in 2011.

Wandering through the rural districts of Maharashtra as a teenager I can recall well how villages were laid out, as collections of homes and in also in relation to the fields and natural features nearby. These early impressions were strengthened by travels over the years, in neighbouring states (Gujarat, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh) and a window seat in a state transport bus was the best vantage point to have to watch how the landscape unfolded and how it was being attended to.

Outside the ‘circle’ of dwellings and small institutional buildings (school, public health centre, panchayat block, mandir) – ‘circle’ is not the typical shape, which is irregular and in our motorised time follows more the alignment of a panchayat road than the dictates of topography and planning – is the land to be looked after by the village, the ‘grama’, and which provides it sustenance of every kind.

There is the land allocated to grow crops and these provide food and are also what used to be called cash crops, there is land to be shared by those who keep cattle, buffaloes, goats and sheep so that these animals can graze, plots in which fodder is grown, there is land for orchards (such as mango, amla, guava) and land for the organised cultivation of vegetables.

There is also the land in which grow densely and undisturbed a variety of local trees and bushes, and which may be called forested or wooded. These tracts are just as important to the grama as are the cultivated fields and grazing grounds, for they contain the wild relatives of much that grows in the precincts of the grama and offer to the husbanded animals varieties of grasses and plants that the ruminants seek at certain times. The forested area may or may not include a sacred grove (guarded by snakes that are well respected).

There are the waterforms – ponds and tanks, natural channels for monsoon streams and a few shallow-cut and narrow canals from which water is shared, several low check dams used to impound water at the start of a growing season, and dug wells, some of which are indeed old and lined with stone from earlier eras. (The pumpset and borewell have dramatically disturbed and altered the grama’s relation with water and the meanings of its waterforms, and what I saw in the late 1970s has mostly vanished.)

How these different uses of a grama’s land are decided upon by its cultivator households determines its swarajya nature – that is, its capacity to be largely independent and self-sufficient in most material needs. Whether from a bus window at a halt or when on foot, I could make out a distribution of land use that was designed to serve the ‘grama’ as wisely as possible.

Cropping pattern for Beed district

Comparing land allocated to major crop groups in Beed, 2010-11 and 1995-96, in hectares.

Ratios could perhaps have been calculated even then in the 1970s (they were done, much earlier, as large-scale and very authoritative planning guidelines in some of the princely states such as Gwalior, Mysore and Patiala). With today’s remote sensing, doing so has become very much easier while at the same time being theoretical only, the advent of ‘market forces’ having weakened the commune-like ‘grama’ social and economic structure through an appeal to the individual.

The ratios – one could see even then, 40 years ago – would vary because of the influence of three factors: the watershed or the manner in which water became manifest in the ‘grama’ precincts, the manner in which plant species dominated and were distributed together with how they were shaped by climate (‘agro-ecology’ in today’s parlance), and the soil characteristics together with the underlying shallow geological features.

How would and how did a grama respond? At the time, being observant but unschooled in such matters, I took no notes. Today, the only sources of such information are old administrative records (such as the district gazetteers of the British colonial era) and more recently the data collected by the periodic agricultural census.

Using the agricultural census data, I set out to examine if and how the land use of a district (Beed, in central Maharashtra) had changed, and in what way. Records at the level of grama cannot be found other than locally (if they have not been consumed by termites or become mouldy compost). But in the databases of the agricultural census one gets a clue of how much is changing and in what direction.

The available time-span for comparison is a small one, 1995-96 and 2010-11, these being two different agricultural census series. For Beed district, the difference in cultivated land (including that land that was fallow at the time the census was taken) was 100,000 hectares with the increase being from 903,672 hectares in 1995-96 to 1,004,006 hectares in 2010-11. This is a very large increase over so short a period and we shall see why.

The agricultural census records the distribution of land to various kinds of crops which is called a cropping pattern. Examining the cropping pattern for Beed district in 1995-96 and in 2010-11 I found several major changes. First, about 100,000 hectares had been brought under cultivation. From where? The census does not tell us. We would have to look at other records. It is likely that these new cultivation areas were earlier what are called ‘waste land’ (this is a British-era term invented to disparage grazing grounds and their importance to our desi cow).

The most striking change is the reduction, in 2010-11, by a whopping 196,879 hectares, in land used to cultivate cereals. The next big change is the addition in 2010-11 of 143,659 hectares of land given to the cultivation of fibre crops (that is, cotton). Third, is the increase by 50,365 hectares (from 15,240 in 1995-96) of land for sugarcane. And fourth are the increases by 45,617 hectares of land for pulses and by an almost similar area – 44,993 hectares – for oilseeds.

Worksheet to calculate district cropping pattern

My worksheet for the ‘Beed syndrome’

Without any other kind of information that could be used to better explain these changes, I might infer: (a) that the change in the land allocated to cereals has happened because the kisans of Beed’s gramas decided that having a surplus of cereals is not as lucrative as having a surplus of cash crops, (b) that cotton as a cash crop is the district’s most valuable ‘export’ of cultivated biomass, (c) that the more than four-fold increase in land under sugarcane means that more water has been made available for the district (as sugarcane needs more water than most crops), (d) that the central government’s programmes to increase the cultivation of pulses and of oilseeds are working well in Beed.

How tenable are these inferences? The first, about cereals, needs to be seen through the region’s cereal preferences. In Beed, like in many districts of Maharashtra and the dryland areas of the north Deccan plateau, it is jowar and bajra that are grown and eaten. By weight, jowar and bajra together account for 80% of the cereals Beed grows (about 50% jowar and 30% bajra). These are not surplus cereals but staple foods. Second, it is possible that Beed’s kisans decided that the income from their two cash crops, sugarcane and cotton, could be partly used to purchase staple cereals grown elsewhere and so balance their diet.

This needs more investigation, although my guess is that they were incorrect in their choices as sugarcane not only takes scarce water away from other needs, the political control of local sugar economies makes income from the crop volatile and unreliable. Likewise cotton, which is controlled by traders and the big players in mechanised looms – with the seeds and inputs being controlled by the biotech industry if Beed’s kisans were persuaded to choose bt cotton over desi varieties. The one bright spot is the last inference, for even today, nearly every cultivating district is deficit in pulses and every addition is a welcome one. It is the same for oilseeds (the intention being to reduce India’s import of palm oil) provided the oilseeds suit the agro-ecology and are processed and used locally.

The final aspect of this change in how Beed has allocated its cultivable land has to do with the amount of food the district’s population (that means the 11 talukas with their 1,368 gramas and eight urban centres) needs. In 1995-96 the district had 713,196 hectares of land under food crops and by 2010-11 that area had reduced to 562,029 hectares. In the other direction, in 1995-96 the district had 190,335 hectares under non-food crops and by 2010-11 that area had increased to 429,352 hectares.

Aside from calculations about yield and income, I treated this as an indicator of hectares of food growing capability per unit of population. In 1991 the district population was 1.822 million and in 2011 it was 2.585 million. The indicator I have designed is a quite simple one: food-growing hectare/consumer unit. (A consumer unit is a head of population weighted by quantity of food typically consumed, adapted from the National Sample Survey method.)

Using this indicator, the difference between 1995-96 and 2010-11 is large and stark. The 713,196 food hectares in Beed in 1995-96 provided a cultivable base of 0.47 hectare per population consumer unit. But 15 years later in 2010-11 the food hectares available was 562,029 and those provided a cultivable base of 0.26 hectare per population consumer unit.

What led to such a precipitous reduction? There could be a combination of many factors. Based on what I learned while working on a central government programme, swarajya or self-sufficiency whether for a grama or a district is never part of the intention that guides a ministry of agriculture scheme. Nor is swadeshi – that what is entirely local and indigenous as much as for a material input as for a practice.

Where Beed is concerned, with its 11 talukas there is the possibility that one or more large and more populated talukas (like Georai, Beed, Ashti) are skewing the district’s overall indicator. I will shortly, time permitting, post an update which examines the talukas (Patoda, Shirur and Manjlegaon are entirely rural) and how they contribute to (or not) the ‘Beed syndrome’.

The how and why of sugar’s 30-year high

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Raw sugar prices have been rising in the world’s commodity exchanges following speculation that India, the world’s second-largest producer of sugar, is considering restricting exports to rebuild its inventory. The international financial press is reporting that the price of raw sugar in the commodity markets surged to a high as dry weather constrained output in Brazil, the world’s biggest producer, and on news that India may cap exports to boost domestic supplies. The last time sugar was as high was in January 1981. It has in recent days gained $16.10 to $751.10 per ton on the NYSE Liffe in Britain, a 2.2% increase.

“India is really the big question overhanging the market,” London-based trader Jake Wetherall of Rabobank International told Bloomberg. “It looks like India’s going to have a fairly good crop this year – it should be over 25 million tons for the first time in a few years – but the question is how much the government decides is going to be made available for export.”

Bloomberg reports, quoting industry association Unica on 28 October 2010, that output in Brazil’s Center South, the country’s biggest producing-region, dropped 30% in the first half of October from a year earlier. Stockpiles in India, the second-largest grower, are about 4 million metric tons, compared with the nation’s preferred level of 10 million tons, according to Rabobank International.

Raw sugar for March delivery rose to 30.12 cents/pound on ICE Futures U.S. in New York. Earlier, the price reached 30.64 cents, the highest level for a most-active contract since 15 January 1981. Sugar has more than doubled since touching a 13-month low on 7 May 2010 on concern that adverse weather will reduce output in Brazil, Russia, China and Pakistan.

Societe Generale SA raised price forecasts for raw and refined sugar, citing lower crop forecasts. Raw sugar in the fourth quarter will be 29.2 cents, up from a 17 September 2010 estimate of 17 cents, Emmanuel Jayet, an analyst in Paris, said in a report. The estimate for white sugar was raised to $744 a ton from $515.

Many sugar buyers have been relying on India, the world’s second-biggest producer of sugar, to keep export supplies running early next year, with the cane crushing season in top-ranked Brazil winding down this month. India has yet to make an announcement on its export policy, and government sources on Thursday said that the country, recovering from two seasons of sugar deficit, would not permit wholesale shipments for now. The comments added to fears of a supply squeeze as traders believe that Brazil’s sugar production may fall in 2011-12, affected both by dry weather as well as the credit crunch, which slowed investment in new mills and cane plantings.

On 4 November 2010 however Reuters reported that India will allow an additional 930,000 tonnes of sugar exports after 15 November 2010. The news agency quoted an unnamed government source. “So far we have allowed less than 600,000 tonnes. After 15 November 2010 we will allow more but after that we will go slow. Exports will only be allowed in a calibrated manner,” the senior government official told Reuters.

On 26 October 2010 Agrimoney had reported that world sugar prices are set to remain at elevated levels for years, to ensure producing countries – and notably Brazil – ramp up output to meet demand growth of more than 50% over the next two decades. Agrimoney quoted leading sugar industry trader Czarnikow. The briefing did not name a figure for sugar prices. However, Czarnikow’s head of analysis Toby Cohen told Agrimoney a figure of 22 cents/pound may be necessary to ensure sufficient supplies.

The group forecast that world sugar consumption will rise to 257m tonnes in 2030, boosted by growth in China and India, where rising wealth and population growth will foster doubling in demand. “Asia will become the largest sugar-consuming region, reflecting the rising economic status of India and China,” Czarnikow said in a report published to coincide with the annual sugar industry gathering in London. China, where urbanisation would give sugar demand an extra spurt, taking the country’s consumption above the European Union’s by 2014, was “clearly set to demonstrate significant demand growth”.

However, prospects for production growth were more uncertain, with land in many large producing countries, such as India and Thailand in short supply. In China, cane area “will come under increasing pressure” from rice which, as a staple food, is “likely to take priority. The US, there are plans to reincorporate some cane land in Florida into the Everglades national park. This leaves Brazil, which has a “comparatively unconstrained” ability to expand cane area, as likely to increase further its dominance over world production, of which it currently provides 23%, and exports, of which it is responsible for about 60%.

Importers and consumers are set “to become ever more dependent upon Brazilian supply”, the briefing said. “However, as with any investment, it will have to be paid for by higher returns and, as the market evolves, we believe sugar consumers will need to adjust to higher prices.” Brazilian investment will be needed in infrastructure as well as directly in sugar production, Czarnikow added, stressing the country’s logistical bottlenecks, which were evident in a struggle this year to keep up with demand. The report also highlighted the potential for the European Union and Russia to return to sugar exports.

What does Czarnikow say in detail about sugar? (1) We have revised our growth forecast for 2010-11 down from 17.4m mtrv to 14.8 m mtrv. (2) During 2010/11, we project cane sugar production to rise to 137.9m mtrv from 123.1m mtrv last year, while beet sugar production is unchanged on last year’s at 34.3m mtrv. (3) We are estimating global consumption in 2010 at 167.9m mtrv rising to 171.3m mtrv in 2011.

“Although it is still very early in the cycle, the idea that next year’s sugar balance will be resolved through an increase in global production now seems less certain. Extreme weather conditions in Russia and Pakistan have crushed hopes of an increase in production in the 10/11 season, while growth in many other areas of the world is not likely to be as strong as first expected.”

Here is a country breakdown provided by Czarnikow: Brazil – The mid-August total of 338 million tonnes of cane crushed represents round 60% of the CS Brazil cane total and we are expecting total production to reach 41.7m mtrv. India – Indian crop prospects for 2010/11 continue to look promising; we expect sugar production to increase by around 30% to reach 27.1m mtrv. Pakistan – Although serious floods have displaced up to 20% of Pakistan’s population, we are holding our figure unchanged at 3.75m mtrv. EU – Our projection has been revised down by 0.4m mtrv to 16.2m mtrv. Russia & FSU – Russian beet crop prospects in Central and Volga regions have been damaged by a heatwave, so we have reduced our production estimates from 4.1m mtrv to 3.3m mtrv. China – We expect 13.2m mtrv during 2010/2011, but with consumption at 16.1m mtrv, the country will be in deficit. Thailand – The forthcoming crop is now expected to reach a similar level to last year at around 7.6m mtrv, down from our initial estimate of 8.4m mtrv.

Who is Czarnikow? “Czarnikow operates from a head office in London and a network of 10 regional offices to service clients and customers globally. Commercial involvement in physical sugar transactions in excess of 8 million tons of sugar each year assures that we have a first hand presence in all major sugar markets of the world. Czarnikow has been in the sugar business since 1861 and is the premier provider of world sugar market services.”