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Ebbing sugar rush: The fall of Indian sugar industry

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By Gaurav Sharma

The world’s largest sugarcane producing nation and the second largest sugar producer after Cuba stares itself in the pit of a downward spiral, a debacle of its own making. Unlike common distresses facing other sectors of the food economy such as crop failure owing to climatic factors and poor irrigation facilities, the sugar industry ails from a mix of market related problems.

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Factor this: Almost 90 per cent of the sugarcane producing regions in the country are well irrigated as compared to less than 50 per cent of the land in other cash crop growing regions.

Yet cane arrears have crossed the Rs 20,000 crore mark. The highest arrears have been reported from the traditional output leaders Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh, followed by Karnataka, Punjab and Tamil Nadu.

The plight of farmers

Farmers have begun taking the suicide route to end their misery. Here Uttar Pradesh and Karnataka lead the gory way. According to Indian Express, this year itself there have been 294 incidents of farmer suicides in Karnataka, including the most fertile region of Mandya-Mysore belt.

One reason for the farmers resorting to the last resort of suicide is the time and effort sugarcane takes to mature.

Still farmers remain persistent in growing the crop mainly due its inherent strength and easy accessibility to irrigation facilities. The known enemies of a crop such as hail, frost, fire, jangli soar (wild boar) are but a passing phenomena for sugarcane and are unable to shake its sturdy foundation.

And yet the sugar industry is on a downward spiral.

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Reason behind this downfall

The main reason behind the fall-down of the sugar industry is the failure to keep the supply in line with the demand. Last year, India outran its production output in comparison to domestic consumption demand. The following year is also expected to result in a record sugar output.

Due to unhindered overproduction, domestic sugar prices have dropped to Rs 22 per kg in Uttar Pradesh and Rs 19 in Maharashtra. Mills do not have the capacity to pay either the Centre or the state at fair remunerative prices. Arrears to farmers have soared.

When domestic demand slips, it is a natural response by the country to look at foreign avenues as prospective markets. But this is where the government finds itself in a catch-22 situation. Global sugar prices have plummeted to record lows.

Is the government doing anything about it?

The government had a small window of opportunity earlier this year, but it squandered the chance to fill its coffers. The Rs 4,000 crore corpus announced by the government as export subsidy was announced much after the season began and therefore, consignments could not be shipped out.

This is not to suggest that the state government is short of cash on its hands. The bi-product of sugarcane, alcohol, alone fetches about Rs 120 on a 750ml bottle of country liquor in Uttar Pradesh. Considering that from every tonne of sugarcane about 45 kg of molasses (from which ethanol is produced) is produced, it can be verily testified that the state coffers are well and flourishing.

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To preserve government’s monopoly over desi daaru, each mill is forced to reserve at least 15 percent of the molasses output for the liquor business.

This makes it all the more astonishing why the government, in spite of being cash surplus, has chosen to be mute observer to the cataclysm facing the sugar industry. Have the state officials become so callous so as to turn a blind eye to the plight of the farmers? Is there a solution in hand or is the decline in sugar prices a free falling abyss?

According to official data, the outlook for September 2015 sugarcane outlay is expected to touch around 9 million tonnes, exceeding the consumption demand by 3-4 tonnes.

Earlier the Indian Sugar Mills Association (ISMA) had suggested that the government should buy the 3 million tonnes as buffer stock. But it has now emerged that the government has other plans up its sleeve; to barter the surplus produce with other nations. The primary target identified for exports is Indonesia though other names such as Australia, Canada and Middle-East nations have also propped up among the prospective export destinations.

However, even if the government is able to strike such a remarkable deal, at current prices it would fetch anywhere between Rs 8,000—Rs 10,000 crore, less than half the amount of total sugar arrears. Going by the thick of things, it can be at most a win-lose bargain for India. (The possibility of a win-win exchange is now passé)

Is there any hope left?

The only viable alternative for stemming the deflationary flow of sugar price is to allow the sugar mills to produce molasses freely without government caps and other restrictions. At the same time, production of sugar has to be brought down in line with the demand. This calls for a calibrated approach whereby the two measures are undertaken in tandem.

The country finds itself at a historic setting. To stall the already escalating crisis, a more proactive approach is required, one that aims to prune the arrears and gradually transform it back into a profit generating industry.

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Here’s How Sugar Relates to Cancer

How sugar relates to cancer

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Here are details about all you need to know about how sugar relates to cancer. Pixabay

Its commonly heard that sugar causes cancer or makes it grow faster. In some ways, this makes sense. Every cell in your body uses blood sugar (glucose) for energy, including cancer cells. But cancer cells consume about 200 times more sugary items than normal cells. They need huge amounts of sugar to fuel their rapid growth.

Dr. Niranjan Naik, Director, Surgical Oncology, Fortis Memorial Research Institute, Gurugram gives you the details about all you need to know about how sugar relates to cancer.

However, there is no strong evidence that directly links sugary food to increased cancer risk, yet there is an indirect link. Eating sugar doesn’t necessarily lead to cancer. Consuming too many calories containing sweetners may result in weight gain.

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Consuming too many calories containing sugar may result in weight gain. Pixabay

Being overweight or obese puts you at a higher risk for cancer and other lifestyle diseases. Obesity is considered as a risk factor for development of cancers of breast, large bowel, esophagus (food pipe), pancreas, kidney, liver, upper stomach (gastric cardia), gallbladder, ovary, uterus, thyroid, myeloma (type of blood cancer), and meningioma (which is a type of tumor of brain).

Experts, including American Cancer Society and National Cancer Institute, do not think sugary food can cause cancer. They say the real culprit is obesity. Fat cells release inflammatory proteins called adipokines. They can damage DNA and eventually cause tumors. The fatter cells you have, the more of these proteins you’re likely to have. Being overweight or obese puts you at risk for at least 13 types of cancers including breast, liver and colon cancer. In fact, obesity is the biggest preventable cause of cancer second to that of smoking.

Some cancers may start due to high levels of insulin, the hormone that controls the amount of sugar in the blood. Insulin levels in blood depends on level of sugars in the blood. Fat cells also increase the level of female hormone, estrogen. After the menopause, this hormone made by fat cells can make cells divide faster in the breasts and uterus, thereby increasing the risk of cancer.

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Even though sugar does not cause cancer directly, it’s still a good idea to eat less sugar. Pixabay

Even though sugar does not cause cancer directly, it’s still a good idea to eat less sugar. Research says you should restrict for a maximum of 6 teaspoons a day for women and 9 teaspoons for men. But most people consume about 22 teaspoons per day in different forms. That’s 130 pounds of sugar each year.

There’s no evidence that following a low-carb or a sugars-free diet lowers the risk of getting cancer, or boosts the chances of surviving if you are diagnosed. Following restricted diets with intake of very low amount of carbohydrate could damage health in the long term by eliminating foods that are good sources of fiber and essential vitamins. This is particularly important for cancer patients, as some treatments may result in weight loss and put the body under a lot of stress. Poor nutrition received from restrictive diets can affect the recovery, or even be life-threatening. For patients to recover, it is essential to get adequate nutrition for helping their bodies cope with treatment.

Also Read- Stroke Patients At a Risk of Suffering From Heart Attack: Study

Although avoiding sugars won’t stop cancer, one can reduce the risk of getting cancer by making healthy lifestyle choices. Do regular exercise, lower the amount of added sugars in your diet and maintain a healthy body weight. (IANS)