Sugarcane is an important crop in India, being cultivated by 45 million farmers. About 50 million people depend on this crop, including the employment generated by around 570 sugar factories and other related industries. Sugar is used in many products and its use is growing. The sugarcane crop is also contributing to our ever-increasing thirst for energy, becoming a substitute for oil. It is a crop with a future. But, sugarcane cultivation in India is in crisis. During the last 10 years, sugarcane production has been fluctuating widely, between 233 and 355 million tonnes. At the same time, productivity at the farm level has been stagnant over the last two decades, at around 65–70 tonnes/ha. With low yields, high input costs, lack of labour availability, water scarcity, climate-induced uncertainties, pest and diseases, and so many other factors, the sugarcane farmers are indeed in a bad state. Those who are producing the raw material for sugar production are bitter. They are shifting to other crops.
The Sustainable Sugarcane Initiative (SSI) is a step in that direction of addressing the fundamental problems of sugarcane cultivation.
The Sustainable Sugarcane Initiative (SSI) aims at providing practical options to the farmers in improving the productivity of land, water and labour, all at the same time. SSI is also expected to reduce the overall pressure on water resources and contribute to recovery of ecosystems. Sustainable Sugarcane Initiative is an innovative method of sugarcane production using less seeds, less water and optimum utilization of fertilizers and land to achieve more yields.
The major principles that govern SSI
• Raising nursery in portrays using single budded chips
• Transplanting young seedlings (25-35 days old)
• Maintaining wider spacing (5×2 feet) in the main field
• Providing sufficient moisture through efficient water management technologies viz., drip fertigation (sub or sub surface)
• Encouraging organic method of nutrient and plant protection measures
• Practicing intercropping with effective utilization of land
SSI methods have received an overwhelming response from the farmers, industries and researchers. The important thing about SSI or any other farm based approaches are that it has to be modified to suite the local conditions while retaining the main principles.
The SRI in rice and SSI in sugarcane have proved the potential of addressing the water crisis while improving the productivity and profitability. India needs to invest in these methods to upscale to see the full positive impact of such approaches at the national level. It is also time for civil society, government agencies to work together to support the farmers in adopting these methods in a big way.
• Improved water use efficiency
• Optimum use of fertilizers favour balanced availability of nutrients
• Better aeration and more penetration of sunlight favours higher sugar content
• Reduced cost of cultivation and increased returns through intercropping