Why should the protest of sugarcane farmers concern us more?

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  • December 24, 2020
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The sugarcane farmers from Sarlahi have been protesting on Maitighar Mandala from 10 am to 3 pm for
the last few weeks. Farmers from other districts such as Bara, Parsa Nawalparasi, and Rautahat have
joined this protest as well now. However, the long-term protesting has not only been widely ignored,
the government is yet to hear the needs of the farmers in general.

Although Shree Ram Sugar mill from Rautahat has paid 16 crores 44 lakh 70 thousand and has promised
to pay the remaining 18.5 crores by the first week of Poush the remaining three big players namely
Annapurna Sugar Mill, Indira Sugar Mill, and Lumbini Sugar Mill have to remain impassive in the situation.
The protest isn’t a one-time event either. This time last year Farmers had launched a protest at the same
place demanding their rightful payment. The protest had been going on for a long time and only
after the pressure, the Government was able to end the protest in a five-point agreement, in which the
government had agreed to coordinate efforts to make industrialists clear all dues within January 21.

However, sugarcane farmers are yet again in the capital city demanding their rightful payment.
The government has called upon a meeting; however, the farmers have refused to join in after demanding
their rightful payment in cash. This situation highlights the incompetence of the government in fulfilling
its promises and also its lack of authority. The mill owners have outright rejected the government’s
orders and yet the government has been silent and passive about it for so long. So we can safely say that
the underlying issue is much greater than the farmers and their protest.

There are around 11 medium and large scale sugarcane industries in Nepal. According to the farmers, the
sugarcane industry owes as much as Rs 900 million to the farmers some of which was paid in the
duration of the protest which the farmers deem fairly inadequate. The records at the ministry of
industry commerce and supplies have been adamant that the debt amount was Rs 481 million from four
sugar mills: Shree Ram Sugar Mill, Annapurna Sugar Mill, Indira Sugar Mill, and Lumbini Sugar Mill.
Though this year’s production should have been started already, the sugar mills owe the farmers the last 6
year’s worth of outstanding debts.

Despite the looming fear of a global pandemic and the cold many aged farmers have taken up banners
to rally against the injustice. The majority of them haven’t planted this year’s crops due to the protest too.
The 5 point agreement signed last year hasn’t been implemented yet and the farmers are here just to
make sure that the government implements it. This small demand has cost the farmers weeks of
torment and pain. The plight is yet to be heard.

This showcases an issue the Nepalese government has so successfully run away from for so long. Nepal has
half of its population involved in farming and agriculture, the majority of which have been traditionally
passed through generations. Despite this, Nepal disregards the farming population and their needs in
general. There have been some attempts to comply with the needs of the farmers. The first being
community seed banks. However, there have been a lot of reported instances of seed that can’t be
grown or are simply inadequate for sowing. The corruption and lack of responsible officers have rotten
the system hollow.

With half of its population involved in farming and the majority of its GDP being constituted by farming as
well, Nepal is yet to realize the importance of farmers. A report from 2017 showed that 2 out of 3
people in Nepal are food insecure. The farming population affected mostly by it due to lack of land, lack
of availability, and usage of modern equipment, and fluctuations in climate as well. These issues have
remained away from the limelight amidst political discourse and ironically the democratic revolution.
The farmers’ protest thus highlights a huge issue in hand. Without proper look into it, there will be
various other crowds of farmers rallying in the streets of Maitighar not very long after.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   Astika Subedi


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