Improving sugarcane cultivation in India | WWF

Improving sugarcane cultivation in India

Posted on
01 May 2009

Scarcity of freshwater is affecting the productivity and profitability of sugarcane growers and millers in India.

As many as 35 million farmers in this country grow sugarcane and rely on it for their livelihoods. Another 50 million depend on employment generated by the 571 sugar factories and other related industries using sugar. In Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, and Tamil Nadu, sugarcane plays a major role in the state economy.

During the last 10 years, sugarcane production in India has fluctuated between 233 million tonnes and 355 million tonnes per year. Similarly, the productivity at the farm level is as low as 40 tonnes/ha. With such low yields and fluctuations in production, and predicted increases in the variability of rainfall due to climate change, the industry is in for big trouble.

One of the world's thirstiest crops, approximately 25,000 kg of water is needed to produce 100 kg of sugarcane. Unless sugarcane farmers are introduced to new methods for producing higher yields using much less water, the country will find it difficult to meet the growing demand for sugar.

The Sustainable Sugarcane Initiative (SSI) aims to:
  • provide practical options to farmers for improving the productivity of land, water, and labour
  • reduce crop duration, providing factories a longer crushing season and increased employment opportunities for workers
  • reduce the overall pressure on water resources and ecosystems.
The SSI is a package of practices based on the principles of ‘more with less’ in agriculture. It stresses a practical approach that originates from farmers and civil society to improve productivity while reducing pressures on natural resources.

It's estimated that by adopting SSI, a farmer will be able to produce at least 20% more sugarcane while reducing water inputs by 30% and chemical inputs by 25%.
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