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Sugar Mills Suffer

Delta sugar mills suffer as farmers turn to other crops

(23 July 2009)

CUU LONG DELTA — Sugar mills in the Cuu Long (Mekong) Delta, which struggled to procure sugar cane for processing last year, are set for a worse time this season after many farmers switched to growing other crops because of sugar cane’s low profitability.

The shortage was so severe following the last crop that Can Tho Sugar Company, based in Can Tho, stopped production in May this year.

The annual sugar cane season is from December to September when the harvest begins. This year the area under sugar cane has shrunk by 10,000ha to 60,000ha, according to figures from the provincial agriculture department.

Many farmers have switched to crops like rice, peanuts, watermelon, and corn after earning low profits or even suffering losses due to falling sugar cane prices in recent years.

Nguyen Van Dong, director of the Hau Giang Province Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, said sugar cane cultivation has diminished in terms of area, yield, and quality. Farmers in Hau Giang, the Delta’s largest sugar cane cultivation province, have planted 13,000ha of this crop, 2,000ha less than last year.

Dong said the decline would see the province’s three sugar plants face a sugar cane shortage since they require the harvest from 15,000ha to meet their needs.

To persuade farmers to continue growing sugar cane, his agency is helping farmers with advanced techniques and new strains to improve yield.

It is also encouraging them to intercrop on their sugar cane farms and breed fish in irrigation canals to increase their earnings.

The Tra Vinh Sugar Mill has advanced VND20 billion (US$1.17 million) to farmers and co-operatives in Tra Vinh Province and provided technical assistance in exchange for their sugar cane crop.

Nguyen Thai Hoa, director of the mill, said his company would buy sugar cane grown on 3,000ha of the province’s 4,154ha this year.

But he is concerned there would be fierce competition among mills for sugar cane this year.

Last year, his mill could only buy 256,000 tonnes of sugar cane against its requirement of 300,000 tonnes, he said.

Four other mills based in neighbouring provinces have also signed contracts with farmers in Tra Vinh where the area under sugar cane has shrunk by 250ha this year.

There are 10 sugar mills in the Delta.

Source: VNS