India became the world’s top sugar producer in 2021-2022, surpassing Brazil with a record of 359 lakh tones. However, the extensive use of the resources in the food production is depleting rapidly, leading to potential crisis in future.
Why there is excess sugar production?
- India is world’s largest consumer of the sugar and thus has to produce enough to meet its huge domestic demand, but the excess production stems from the policies and measures that makes farmers favour sugarcane cultivation. They are:
- Fair and remunerative price scheme (FRP) offered by central government, which mandates minimum price that sugar mills have to pay the sugarcane farmers ensuring that farmers always get fair profit for their crop.
- State government also offer heavy subsidies to incentive sugarcane cultivation.
The resulting sugar surplus has led to higher export with a record of 110 lakh tones in 2021-2022
How does excessive sugarcane cultivation impact groundwater?
India’s ethanol blending programme reduce crude oil import, sugar import and greenhouse gas emission. However, sugarcane is water intensive cultivation. Sugarcane requires 3000 mm of rainfall but the top growing states get 1000- 2000 mm, relying heavily on groundwater, a limited resource for instance 100 kg of sugar need two lakh liters of ground water for irrigation.
Steps taken by the government:
To deal with sugar surplus the Indian government is diverting it to ethanol production, an organic compound made by fermenting sugarcane molasses or sugar.
Ethanol is an active agent in alcoholic beverages and also used in chemical and cosmetic industries.
In transport sector the use of ethanol blended petrol (EBP) significantly reduces harmful emission, such as carbon monoxide and various hydrocarbons from vehicles.
Government has also reduced the GST on ethanol from 18% to 5% in 2021. In the same year 394 lakh tones of total sugar produced about 350 lakh tones were diverted to produce ethanol and India is about near to achieve its target.
What are the solutions to this problem:
- introducing fair and comprehensive subsidy scheme: for variety of crops can help farmers to diversify as well as distribute cultivation evenly. It will prevent monoculture and ensures an equitable income.
- The availability of wider range of profitable and less resource intensive crops can lower the strain on vital natural resources.
- Drip irrigation to tackle the excessive groundwater extraction, as water is allowed to drip slowly but directly to the roots of sugarcane plants, reducing water consumption upto 70% telative to current flood irrigation methods.
4.Rain water harvesting, waste water treatment and canal irrigation networks will help minimize stress on ground water reservoirs.
As India continue to become more of a global frontrunner in agriculture sector. It must put sustainability at the center.