Sugarcane is tall perennial grasses (family Poaceae, tribe Andropogoneae), native to warm temperate to tropical regions of the World. They have stout, jointed, fibrous stalks that are rich in sugar and measure 2 to 6 meters tall. All of the sugar cane species interbreed, and the major commercial cultivars are complex hybrids.

About 195 countries grow the crop to produce 1.5 billion tonnes. The world's largest producer of sugar cane by far is Brazil followed by India. Uses of sugar cane include the production of sugar, Falernum, molasses, rum, soda, cachaça (the national spirit of Brazil) and ethanol for fuel. The bagasse that remains after sugar cane crushing may be burned to provide both heat - used in the mill - and electricity, typically sold to the consumer electricity grid. It may also, because of its high cellulose content, be used as raw material for paper, cardboard, and eating utensils branded as "environmentally friendly" as it is made from a by-product of sugar production.

Sugarcane was originally from tropical South Asia and Southeast Asia. Different species likely originated in different locations originating in India and from New Guinea. The thick stalk stores energy as sucrose in the sap. From this juice, sugar is extracted by evaporating the water. Crystallized sugar was reported 5000 years ago in India.

Around the eighth century A.D., Arabs introduced sugar to the Mediterranean, Mesopotamia, Egypt, North Africa, and Spain. By the tenth century, sources state, there was no village in Mesopotamia that didn't grow sugar cane. It was among the early crops brought to the Americas by Spaniards. Brazil is currently the biggest sugar cane producing country.

A boiling house was used in the 17th through 19th centuries to make sugarcane juice into raw sugar. These houses were add-ons to the sugar plantations in the western colonies. This process was often conducted by the African slaves, under very poor conditions. The boiling house was made of cut stone. The furnaces were rectangular boxes of brick or stone with openings near to one side, and at the bottom to stoke the fire and pull out the ashes. At the top of each furnace were up to seven copper kettles or boilers, each one smaller than the previous one and hotter. The cane juice was placed in the first copper kettle which was the largest. The juice was then heated and a little lime added to remove impurities. The juice was then skimmed then channeled to the other copper kettles. The last kettle, which was called the 'teache' was where the cane juice became syrup. It was then put into cooling troughs where the sugar crystals hardened around a sticky core of molasses. The raw sugar was then shoveled from the cooling trough into hogsheads (wooden barrels) where they were put in the curing house.

Sugarcane was, and still is, extensively grown in the Caribbean, where it was first brought by Christopher Columbus during his second voyage to The Americas, initially to the island of Hispaniola (modern day Haiti and the Dominican Republic) . In colonial times, sugar was a major product of the triangular trade of New World raw materials, European manufactures, and African slaves. France found its sugarcane islands so valuable it effectively traded its portion of Canada, famously dubbed "a few acres of snow," to Britain for their return of Guadeloupe, Martinique and St. Lucia at the end of the Seven Years' War.

The Dutch similarly kept Suriname, a sugar colony in South America, instead of seeking the return of the New Netherlands (New Amsterdam). Cuban sugarcane produced sugar that received price supports from and a guaranteed market in the USSR; the dissolution of that country forced the closure of most of Cuba's sugar industry. Sugarcane remains an important part of the economy of Belize, Barbados, Haiti along with the Dominican Republic, Guadeloupe, Jamaica, and other islands. The sugarcane industry is a major export for the Caribbean, but it is expected to collapse with the removal of European preferences by 2009.

Sugarcane production grown between lattitude 30º North and 30º South has greatly influenced many tropical Pacific islands, including Okinawa and most particularly Hawaii and Fiji. In these islands, sugar cane came to dominate the economic and political landscape after the arrival of powerful European and American agricultural business, which promoted immigration from various Asian countries for workers to tend and harvest the crop. Sugar-industry policies eventually established the ethnic makeup of the island populations that now exist, profoundly affecting modern politics and society in the islands.

In the modern times sugar is produced predominately from the sugarcane in the following countries.

Argentina Mauritius Australia
Mexico Bangladesh Mozambique
Belize Nicaragua Brazil
Nigeria China * Pakistan
China (Taiwan Prov.) Panama Colombia
Papua New Guinea Dominican Republic Peru
Ecuador Philippines Egypt *
Senegal El Salvador South Africa
Ethiopia Sudan Fiji
Swaziland Guatemala Tanzania
Guyana Thailand Honduras
Trinidad & Tobago India Uganda
Indonesia Uruguay Jamaica
Zambia Lao PDR Zimbabwe
Kenya Malaysia  

* Countries also growing beet for Sugar.

Source:- International Sugar Organization Oct 2009,

Brazil is a major grower of sugarcane, which is used to produce sugar and provide the ethanol used in making gasoline-ethanol blends (gasohol) for transportation fuel. In India, sugarcane is sold as jaggery and also refined into sugar, primarily for consumption in tea and sweets, and for the production of alcoholic beverages.

Sugarcane Production in Pakistan

Sugarcane is grown in Pakistan from the time immemorial attributed to the mighty river Indus and its tributaries. The region, known as Indus valley civilization historically had the knowledge of sugarcane production and the extraction of brown sugar cakes, even now locally known as Gur being produced traded and liked by the people. Traditionally sugarcane juice and pealed cut in mall pieces for chewing used round the year.

The areas falling between latitude 24º and 34ºN, which can be classified as irrigated sub-tropical zones with moderate temperature are suitable for the cultivation of the sugarcane. The region can be termed as frost free zone except for the area lying above 30º N which is occasionally hit by frosts.

Sugarcane occupies nearly 1.0 million hectares of the cultivated land out of the available 22.0 million hectares i.e. about 4.5% of the irrigated land. The crop needs about 10 MAF (million acre-feet) of water from the total availability of about 135 MAF in the present system and reservoirs. Known as high delta crop it has always been susceptible to the weather cycle, restricting its expansion outside this ecological zone.

Sugar industry in Pakistan now well developed is operating at around 70% of its capacity. The annual cane production fluctuates between 45 million and 65 million tonnes depending on irrigation water supplies and rains, whereas the present industrial capacity can mill at least 70 million tonnes. Good and bad crop years have meant that the growers revenues have been unstable and uncertain against the specter of ever increasing input cost. Research and development on the sugarcane crop has not been to the desired mark and no noticeable variety improvement has been fielded in the past years. This is one of the main factors affecting the survival of the sugar industry. The variety development in Pakistan does not match the expansion in the sugar industry and neither the industry has any systematic programme for variety propagation.

Over the past six decades productivity increase has been marginal (see Figure below).

This current low yield of 48 t/ha clearly exposes cane production as the weak link in the overall value chain. Combination of cane price, rising input costs and lack of actionable research products from the local and national research institutes explain why there has not been significant growth in productivity, and also the challenges facing the industry. The growers need to have sufficient incentive in terms of the price they receive for their cane so that they will optimize the use of inputs to produce quality cane and high yields. The role of the government here is of paramount importance.

A brief on cane varieties in use in Pakistan is presented here render for readers short introduction.

For details see “Sugarcane Varieties Situation in Pakistan” contributed by Karim Bakhsh Malik a renowned sugar technologist.


Amongst the three cane growing provinces of Pakistan, Punjab is leading in cane variety evolution programme. Sugar cane Research Institute, Faisalabad has released a number of varieties since its inception. Shakarganj Research Institute, Jhang has also an active variety selection programme and has evolved one variety as SPSG26.

Cane varieties in cultivation are:
CPF 242, HSF 240, SPF 234, CPF 213, CPF 237, CoJ 84, Co1148, SPF 238, CP77-400, CP43-33.

The varieties Co 1148, CoJ 84, and SPF 238 are late maturing low sugar varieties, SPF 338 gained popularity and spread at fast rate. In some of the sugar mills this variety brought down recovery level to around 7-8 percent. Industry is trying to get rid of this variety, but in cane slump years sugar mills do not stick to their policies and allow procurement.

SPF 234 has been a major variety of Southern Punjab and covered area to 90-95% raising sugar mills recovery to over 10.5%. During 2008-09, the variety got severely infected by rust. Now the industry is left with only 4 or 5 varieties which too have selective adaptability in different soils and climatic conditions.


The variety evolution programme in Sindh is not encouraging. Provincial Research Institute, Tandojam released its last variety (BF 129), during 1996. Nuclear Institute of Agriculture, Tandojam, has released two cultivars, NIA 1998 and NIA 2004. One variety Thatta 10 is developed by a PARC Sugar Crops Research Institute, Thatta. The Sindh Sugar Industry is some how trying to meet its requirements by unscientific and irregular introduction of varieties from Punjab (SPSG 26, SPF 234, CPF 237, HSF 240). Habib Sugar Mills making its own efforts to test varieties for its tract. The cane varieties under cultivation are:

Th 10, BL 4, Triton, L116, BF 129, NIA 98, NIA 2004, SPSG 26, Larkana 2001, SPF 234, CPF 237, HS 12, Co 1148, CP 67-412, Disco.

Research Institutes in Sindh does not have a strong base of germplasm selection. In lower Sindh main varieties under cultivation are BL 4, BF 129, Triton, Thatta 10, SPF 234; CPF 237 is a new introduction. The Larkana-2001 a late maturity variety is confined in Larkana tract. In upper Sindh, Thatta 10, CPF 67-412, L 116, HS 2, HS 12, Co 1148, Disco and SPF 234 are popular. HSF 240 and CPF 237 are new introductions.

SPF 234 got infected by rust. Disco has been a notorious variety depressing sugar recovery. Industry is trying to replace it with other varieties.

Besides a famous area for cane flowering, Provincial Research Station is silent on cane breeding work. PARC Research Station, Thatta works on open pollinated fuzz; required infrastructure for cane breeding has not been developed.


In NWFP as well, variety development programme is slow and the province has quite a few varieties to grow. Sugar industry has good quality as well as poor quality cane. Cottage Industry of Gur is a big challenge to the sugar industry. Generally it happens that the quality varieties are crushed for Gur and poor quality cane is supplied to sugar mills. Due to low cane supplies and low sugar varieties, the industry is in crisis of producing costliest sugar.

· Amongst the cane varieties released CP 77-400 is now most popular variety covering about 75% cane area of the province; Mardan 93 is also grown on large area under CP 51-21 and CP 65-357 is being reduced. In D.I.Khan region Co 1148 has been the major variety under cultivation. The variety SPF 238 also spread like hot cake and efforts are being made to replace it with HSF 240 and SPF 242. Quantitative and qualitative.

There is need for further research and multiplication of the suitable varieties to suit different soils in the different parts of the country.

Factors contributing to low yields
Inadequate water supply
  • Inadequate water supply is the key factor in the loss of yield per hectare. With the limitation in water supply there is a compelling need to explore the exploitation of drip and or sprinkle irrigation systems. While such practice would need heavy investment it would also address issue of scarcity of water and competing requirement for the expanding population. Introduction of cultivars resistant or tolerant to water stress is a research challenge requiring special attention. Lining of thousands miles of watercourses, already in hand is a positive step towards reducing loses.
High cost of inputs
· Cost of inputs is getting higher everyday. These includes fertilizers , pesticides and seed. Growers income, however, fluctuates depending on the harvest. On the other hand continuous depressed sugar prices in the domestic market does not allow the millers to offer a just price for sugarcane to support increased production and productivity.
Cane payment system

· At present in Pakistan, sugarcane is the only crop that gets paid by weight and not by quality. The loss is generally borne by the mills. A significant improvement in the supply of quality cane is expected as soon as a payment mechanism is determined which takes into account cane quality, in particular, sugar content.

Efforts are now underway led by the Pakistan Sugar Mills Association to persuade the Government to consider adopting the cane payment system used in Australia or other parts of the world, which is based on cane quality and which is fair to both growers and millers.

Development zones

· Creation of the Sugarcane Development Zones was another idea proposed by the Pakistan Sugar Mills Association and has been persuaded for the last few years. At present the sugarcane growers are free to sell their produce to any mill at any distance for a better price. The freedom of such sale and negotiation may bring short term benefits at the expense of potential technical and financial support extended to growers by the local mill in the production of his crop. The help thus extended to growers who agree to supply their cane to the mill in their locality includes financing seed, new varieties, fertilizer, pesticides, machinery and expertise services.

While this initiative of encouraging growers to supply to cane to the mills in their locality is a progressive step, the lack of trust created between the growers and the millers is a hurdle in the way of much needed development on the technical grounds.

Marketing of sugarcane was regulated until 1987 through Sugar Factories Control Act. Each sugar mill was assigned a specific area known as zones to procure sugarcane at the price declared by the Government. Only a small quantity of sugarcane could be diverted to the manufacture of gur.

With the official system abolished in 1987-88 farmers were free to supply cane to any mill. This brought with it added disadvantages, namely:

· The role of the middleman took birth, who purchased cane from growers before harvest at a price lower to what he eventually sold to a mill. While the role of the middleman is frowned upon by the millers, growers and the Government, without a suitable alternative this practice persists.
· One of the major consequences of this has been that sugarcane is transported to long distances to mills, not necessarily within the growers locality, resulting in unnecessary strain on the road network, additional costs for fuel and adverse impact on the environment.