Sugarcane farmers protest against lopsided contract

Farmers have launched a protest against Reliance Sugar Mill of Manaharwa accusing it of forcing them to sign an agreement containing conditions favourable to it when buying sugarcane from them.

After the mill was forced to agree to pay the farmers Rs 8 million last year as compensation for importing sugarcane instead of buying local products, it has started to sign contracts with different pre-conditions for purchasing sugarcane from them. This has irked the farmers and they have started a protest putting forward a 26-point demand.

The 18-point contract paper states the mill will purchase sugarcane only from farmers of Bara and Parsa, but under certain conditions, which farmers consider tough. According to the farmers, the contract paper says the mill will purchase sugarcane from farmers as per the set calendar, and if any farmer does not have a purchase order issued by the factory, it will reduce the price of the sugarcane by 15-30 percent.

Likewise, the contract paper prohibits farmers from switching the means of transportation and bars them from carrying more than the specified weight of sugarcane in a vehicle.

The contract paper prepared by the factory also states that farmers should mention the land area used for sugarcane cultivation, submit a photocopy of the landownership certificate and state the tentative output of their farm. The contract paper also states that the factory reserves the right to buy or reject the sugarcane brought by the farmers.

“Never since Birgunj Sugar Mill was established in 1960 have I seen such contract terms,” said Dhruba Yadav, a leading farmer of Manaharwa village. “The factory management is trying to cheat the farmers in the name of signing the contract paper.”

Amid farmers’ protests, DN Pandey, a senior official of the factory, said they were forced to put forth the conditions as the mill’s capacity is limited compared to possible increased sugarcane production. He, however, said the factory was ready to move ahead with amending the contract paper. According to a member of the factory management, they are ready to amend the clause that gives the mill full authority not to purchase sugarcane.

Farmers said that the factory management was making the farmers sign the contract paper to avoid having to buy more sugarcane than necessary in case production exceeds demand.

Last year, the factory had denied buying sugarcane from farmers, causing a huge loss to them. After the farmers protested, the mill agreed to pay Rs 8 million to the farmers in damages during a negotiation facilitated by the local administration.

“Forcing the farmers to sign a contract requiring them to state the names of ancestors going back two generations and provide copies of the land ownership certificate to buy sugarcane is illegal,” said Kapil Muni Mainali, president of the Sugarcane Producing Farmers’ Association.

Another farmer Diwakar Paudel said that the factory’s move was guided by a motive to create conditions where farmers would be forced to do whatever it wants.

There are nearly 10,000 farmers in Bara and Parsa districts who produce 6.5 million quintals of sugarcane annually.

Source: eKantipur