The sugar industry is the backbone of the rural economy besides contributing heavily for the exchequer of the state. Presently there are 43 sugar mills in all with an installed capacity of 30 lakh tonnes valued at Rs. 7000 crore. More than five lakh farming families in Tamil Nadu depend on the sugar industry for their livelihood. This is the only industry where more than 75 per cent of turnover is distributed in the rural area thus creating massive employment opportunities in the villages where the mills are located.
The industry continuously upgrades its R&D activities to identify new cane varieties to increase the yield that will ultimately help the farming community. Their support to cane growers in pest control, mechanisation, installation of drip irrigation systems and obtaining credit from banks for farming activities at reasonable interest rates is noteworthy.
Creating wealth from waste
Sugar industry is a model for other industries in creating wealth from waste. Bagasse removed from the cane before crushing is used as fuel for generating electricity. The industry has an installed capacity to produce 659.40 MW of electricity. With the mismatch in power demand and supply, sugar mills have upgraded their boilers to operate on dual fuel- bagasse .
Molasses, another waste generated during the process of making sugar, is used as cattle feed and also for producing industrial alcohol. Another important contribution by the sugar industry is ethanol. Ethanol mixed fuel program helps to reduce import of petroleum crude thus saving precious foreign exchange for the country. There is aim to reach 5 per cent ethanol mix with fuel whereas Brazil - world’s top sugar producer- is moving towards increasing the ethanol blend with gasoline from 25 per cent to 27 per cent.
Like any other commodity business, sugar industry is also exposed to trade and weather cycles. Despite these, sugar industry has many a times, reinvented itself. Sugar industry is the most important building block in creating a vibrant rural economy in Tamil Nadu.