India is the largest producer and consumer of sugar in the world, with Maharashtra contributing one-third of the country’s sugar output. India needs about 20 million tonnes of sugar each year manufactured by 566 sugar mills across the county. After two years of low production, India recovered its production in 2005-06 and was projected to produce 18.4 million tonnes in 2006.
While sugarcane farmers sweeten the day for the rest of the world, it is pertinent to note how tough a life they lead in the Western Indian state of Maharashtra – a state dominated by sugar barons who are part of the ruling government. Sugarcane farmers labour in the fields from 4 am during the four-month-long season, and put in more than 16 hours of hard labour to produce quality sugarcane. The lives of the farmers of a village are so inextricably linked that the village barber, the village tailor, the village grocer and others who are part of a village’s economy travel with the sugarcane farmers to the sugar factory and live in tiny, unlit shanties provided by the factory till the season is over.
This photo story tries to capture the complicated and highly labour intensive process of sugarcane manufacture, and the lives of the sugarcane farmers who ultimately survive of paltry incomes.