Oct 29 - Nov 4, 20

Sugar beet contributes 33 percent of global 242 million metric tons of sugar production. It is considered in general as an alternative or a supplement to sugarcane for sugar production. Sugar beet contributes about 20 percent of the world sugar production, with sugarcane contributing 80 percent.

It is mostly cultivated in cold climatic regions of Europe, USA, Russia and Turkey. Europe constitutes 66 percent of the world area under sugar beet and a high percentage of world sugar beet production. It is also grown in warm, humid and sub tropical climatic condition in Asia, Africa, Australia and South America.

It may be mentioned here that on the whole Pakistan produces only one percent sugar from sugar beet and 99 percent sugar from sugarcane.

In the 1960s the studies relating to the feasibility of growing sugar beet for sugar in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa showed bright prospects but during the last 53 years the cultivation and its processing was grim. It may be mentioned that sugar beet cultivation is suitable in Sindh and some parts of Punjab.

In the wake of acute water crisis in the country Pakistan needs to increase sugar production from sugar beet. It should make extraneous efforts to replace sugarcane crop with sugar-beet to increase per acre production, save water and utilize fruitfully all land.

Pakistan sugarcane production has been declining on one pretext or another and the country had to spend a large amount billions of dollar import from its hard earned foreign exchange earnings.

The experiment for sugar production from sugar beet has given successful result in the province of Sindh. The government of Pakistan has decided to grow sugar beet in the coastal belt dividing Sindh /Balochistan on a large scale.

The Fact Finding Mission Report for sugar beet cultivation disclosed that in the forthcoming years Pakistan will not have massive water to produce enough of sugarcane and that it will be importing sugar one million tons annually which will be not only a burden on the national exchequer but also a menace to the national economy.

An example can be cited of the federal and provincial huge spending billion of rupees for promoting palm oil in coastal areas of Sindh but the palm oil did not bring any positive result as the palm oil mills were not equipped to consume the crop.

Sugar beet is advantageous in the present circumstances compared to sugarcane in the prevailing dry weather conditions to meet sugar cane requirements of the country.

Sugar beet require less water for irrigation and it need 5 to 6 time irrigations as compared to sugarcane which require 24 to 25 time irrigation.

Sugarcane can also be inter-cropped in sugar beet and sugar beet could also accommodate another Kharif crop which is otherwise difficult in case of sugarcane.

Climate of lower Sindh is suitable to grow sugar beet on commercial scale. Tropical sugar beet cultivars have high adaptability in these areas with similar yield potential as in temperate areas.

High period and limited crop inputs such as fertilizers, insecticides and irrigation water, low crop price and delayed payments by sugar millers are some of the obstacles in expansion of area under sugarcane cultivation in the country. Due to this unfavorable position in the sugarcane cultivation in the country there is a need of cultivating sugar beet for maximum production of sugar in the country.

The sugar beet cultivation in the province not only helps in more sugar production for the country, but also in generating income for the growers in the province.

It had been seen that sugar beet can produce almost two times higher sugar yield per hectare with less water and other input resources in a short period of four to six months as compared to sugarcane that needs a long growth period.

In view of climate change in the country affecting sugarcane production, sugar beet can be an alternative crop supplementary to sugarcane to increase sugar production in the country.

Sugar beet required 6 to 8 irrigation cycles on the other hand sugarcane required at least 16 irrigation cycles.

Sugar beet accounts for a fifth of total world sugar production and has been encouraged as a supplement to sugar cane. Sugar beet plant has a sweet white root from which sugar is obtained, as its underground stem is rich in sucrose.

Grown in mild or temperate weather regions, sugar beet is deemed easily replaceable with sugar cane to maximize land utilisation and minimize water use.

One such report-a joint-study by SMEDA and German sugar beet experts in May 2007-noted. "Sugar beet can produce almost two times higher sugar yields per hectare with less water and other input(s) in a short period (4-6 months) as compared to sugar cane that needs 12-16 months."

Sugar beet can provide a solution to water shortage and land wearing away if the government along with the sugar industry can determine longer-term objectives and make suitable arrangements for advancement of the crops.

The sugar mill owners of the province are requested in their own interest to turn to making sugar from beet-root. They must invest in the necessity equipment and share in the progress and prosperity that beet-root harvesting can bring to this sector.

High per acre cost and low returns had left little room for farmers to continue sowing sugar beet; farmers however are forced to go for it.

A sugar beet grower has to forego wheat, maize and tobacco crops for beet production. But with application of good seeds and hard-work, farmers can get reasonable compensation.

Government sugar-beet development policy needs to be formulated for farmers and mill owners with incentives like duty-free import of new and second hand sugar-beet plants, production and supply of quality beet-seeds, easy access to soft loans, tax exemptions, crop insurance for farmers and millers to build their trust in the economic feasibility of the crop.

The past poor performance of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa be exhaustively studied by sugar beet experts and necessary corrective measures be taken to regenerate the sugar beet cultivation for sugar production.

It is worth mentioning here that Khyber Pakhtunkhwa has the necessary climate for the successful growth of sugar beet for sugar production and the availability of infrastructure, technical know how, etc.

Some sugar industrialists are now showing interest in production of beet sugar. Talks are being held between them and the University of Agriculture to see the possibilities of sugar beet cultivation in various districts of Punjab, Sindh and Balochistan. International seed companies are also working to optimize their cultivars in various districts of Pakistan.

It is now the proper time to encourage sugar beet cultivation on a large scale to avoid hovering sugar crisis under water shortage. Despite continuing water shortage, the government has not taken any positive or practical step in this direction.

Once again it is emphasised that there is a strong need to forge a policy, both at the federal and the provincial level, to encourage sugar beet as a supplement to sugarcane for sugar production in the country.

As stated earlier, sugar beet is being cultivated in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa for the last several years with significant success. Nevertheless, sugar millers should play a major role to help growers in sugar-beet cultivation.

The trend is fast changing now. Pakistani farmers are also slowly adopting sugar beet for commercial sugar production.

Due to excessive expenditure on sugarcane crops and comparatively knotty process of sale, sugar beet is gaining its popularity in Pakistan.

More field research needs to be done on the crop and to discover those sugar cane varieties that need much water and are of shorter duration. If billions of rupees can be spent on sugar imports, why not a few hundred millions on revitalizing the sugar beet crop.

The government should encourage farmers to first sow beet on a trial basis by extending them free farm-inputs and crop insurance to build their trust in the crop.

A large number of small sugarcane growers do not shift to sugar beet because they are habitually associated with sugarcane making gur for liquidity and self-employment, and cutting off sugar cane ops for animal feed. Millers need investment for adjustment in the current set-ups.

It is worthwhile mentioning here that top growers of sugar beet are all technologically-advanced countries (France, USA and Germany) shows the role of technology and its adoption for better results. Pakistan in this regard try all its best to induce farmers and millers throughout the country where it is feasible to grow sugar beet for sugar production.