With educated youths migrating to nearby towns and cities, the mills are increasingly looking around for mechanisation
The sugar industry players in Maharashtra are mulling fully mechanised sugarcane harvesting with the help of harvesters and robots. Anticipating labour shortage and a glut in sugarcane output, sugar mills have requested the Pune-based Vasantdada Sugar Institute (VSI), the apex sugarcane research body, to research employing robots for cane cutting.
At a recent conference at VSL, Jaiprakash Dandegaonkar, President of the National Federation of Co-operative Sugar Factories Limited, while interacting with media, said, “Manpower shortage for sugarcane cutting is going to escalate. Along with harvesters, we also need robots. In the last 5-6 years there is a shortage of sugarcane cutters. We have to depend on mechanisation and hence research in robots for sugarcane cutting and harvesters is valuable”.
Union Minister Nitin Gadkari, at the event, said that mechanising sugarcane cutting is the need of the hour as its output is likely to grow manifold. He said that the Centre and sugarcane producing States must join hands to increase the number of harvesters.
Where are sugarcane cutters?
This season, the sugarcane cutters returned to their villages to sow in their own fields ahead of the monsoon and Maharashtra mills brought sugarcane harvesters from Karnataka, Gujarat, Tamil Nadu, and other States to harvest excess sugarcane. The 2021-22 sugar season in Maharashtra that started in October still continues, resulting in a sugarcane glut.
According to the State government, about 9-10 lakh sugarcane cutters migrate from 13 districts to other parts of the state, mainly in western Maharashtra, during the six months (October to March) of the season.
Manisha Tokale, activist, working with sugarcane cutter women in the Beed district of Maharashtra, says that the young generation in the families of sugarcane cutters are moving out of this traditional work.
“Young boys and girls don’t want to be sugarcane cutters and prefer migrating to cities to find some work. With the increasing education levels , the new generation wants their parents to be out of this exploitative system,” she said.
Concerns about mechanisation
However, many like Sunita Borge, who are illiterate and depend entirely on the cutting season, say that many like her will starve if sugar mills stop employing sugarcane cutters and introduce harvesters and robots. One machine cuts 200-tonne sugarcanes in a day, while two cane cutters cut 2-tonne canes.
Experts say that one machine takes away the work of 100 cane cutters. The deliberations by the mills to use more harvesters and introduce robots in sugarcane cutting have worried many like Sunita.