Sep 8 - 14, 2008

Pakistan Society of Sugar Technologists organized its 43rd Annual Convention at Karachi in late August. A number of papers were presented by the people involved in the sugar industry. Some of these papers touched upon a number of issues facing the industry and also highlighted the valuable contribution this industry can make to the national economy.

Aftab Ahmed, Managing Director, Pangrio Sugar Mills presented a very interesting paper regarding mill stoppages. His contention was that tough the mill stoppage data is recorded as part of management information support to take immediate remedial measures and to rectify the problems. However, the significance of this data extends beyond MIS. It supports in future planning and budgeting and maintenance.

According to Aftab the average net working season per mill in Sindh during 2007-08 was 125 days, from 104 to 169. This translated to season's total stoppage of 619 days, which means that stoppage were equivalent to non-operation of five mills in the province.

According to Vivek Verma, Chairman and Managing Director of Spray Engineering Devices, with the implementation of WTO an increase in international trade is visible resulting in very unpredictable sugar price. The price of sugarcane is on the rise and input costs and output prices are no longer controllable. Therefore, new technologies and processes have to be developed to improve the efficiency and optimize cost of production to make sugar mills economically viable.

Currently, Pakistan is facing at an average 8-16 hours of load shedding. While different adhoc measures have been taken to improve the supply the conditions have not improved. Mohammad Sarfraz Khan of Bawany Sugar Mills was of the opinion that sugar industry can play a vital role in overcoming the shortfall. Through, cogeneration power plants mills can supply power to the national grid. His presentation was worth listening because he discussed various aspects of cogeneration technology in the existing system. The details covered included technical possibilities, implementation realities, financial impacts and attainable quantum of electricity.

M. S. Sundarram and T. S. Rao of J P Mukherji Associates, India made a detailed presentation regarding surplus power generation by the sugar mills. However, it is important that the overall engineering designs are well thought so that the sugar mill can efficiently support the cogeneration plant. Bagasse based cogeneration is essentially a sugar mill project and not a power plant. Therefore, sizing and configuration of cogeneration boilers and turbines must match the operating characteristics of the sugar factory energy demand. It is also important that the specifications of the sugar factory are also optimized so that it can efficiently support power plant.

Riaz Ahmed of Fauji Fertilizer Company presented a research based article regarding fertility of land in sugarcane growing areas. Data of last five years indicated that most of the areas are medium in texture and almost also the sampled areas are alkaline in reaction. About one third of the investigated areas are low in organic matter and almost all are areas are deficient in NPK. The present use of NPK is imbalanced and well below than the recommended rate. Despite clear evidence of deficiency, micronutrients are not used in sugarcane crop in almost all the areas, which is one of the causes of low sugarcane yield in Pakistan.

Another research paper collectively prepared by Sagheer Ahmed, Maqbool Akhtar, Shahid Saleem and Muhammad Zuhair discussed the unsuitability of tube well water in Sargodha and Jhang districts. The bottom line was that only half of the tube wells are giving suitable water for irrigation in both the districts. Sugarcane crop is water intensive and if the quality of water is not suitable it can adversity affect yield and recovery. Similar test should also be conducted in other sugarcane producing areas.

One of the reasons for poor capacity utilization of the sugar industry is inadequate availability of sugarcane because of poor yield. Pakistan Agriculture Research Council (PARC) is working in collaboration with the private sector across the country for developing new and high yielding varieties. Under this program 27 varieties have been developed and released for commercial cultivation in the country. Similarly, 18 new varieties are being prepared and tested and will be released soon for commercial cultivation. According to PARC presentation sugarcane yield in the country has been increased from 38 tons/hectare in 1982-83 to 54 tons/hectare in 2007-08.

R. J. Suluja having visited many sugar mills in Pakistan was of the opinion that optimum results are not being achieved in most of the mills because of improper mill groove design. This opinion was formed after comparing groove designs of mills operating in India and Thailand. The result of improper design is presence of higher moisture content in bagasse produced by the Pakistani sugar mills.

Mills are always in search of ways to improve sugar recovery from sugarcane. Javed Iqbal of Colony Sugar Mills in his paper suggested ways to extract maximum juice from bagasse. His contention was that even when bagasse is subjected to high and repeated pressure it never gives up the juice it contains. This could be achieved by replacing water with juice. His finding was that the moisture level of bagasse leaving the first mill is about 60%, which is reduced to 50% in second and 45% in the third mill. At this stage water has to be sprayed on bagasse to dilute the juice content.

These are high lights of some of the papers, which need to be read carefully and understood by all the stakeholders. Sugar industry is the driving engine of rural economy and also has the potential to help the country in overcoming power shortages and reducing oil import bill. However, these objectives cannot be achieved unless the policy planners understand dynamics of this industry. Why waste time act now.