Anatomy of sugar milling in Sindh
The political economy of Sindh has over the last decade become synonymous with sugar milling business. Stories of overlap between – often referred to as nexus – the province’s ‘first family’ and mill owners are regaled on prime time talk shows. But how deep really is the footprint of these native politicos?
Of the 18 mills owned by politically influential (PI) persons of the province identified in ‘Mapping Political Footprint in Sugar Industry’, 13 are located in southern districts of Sindh, most of them concentrated in district Badin and, Tando Allah Yar, Tando M. Khan, Matiari districts of the erstwhile Hyderabad division.
The southern cluster (including those in Sujawal, Thatta and Mirpurkhas) together climbs up to 21 units. In fact, an overwhelming majority – 32 out of total 38 mills in the province – are located within less than 50 miles of Hyderabad city.
Yet, as the skewed distribution of sugarcane crushing in the accompanied illustration shows – most of the crushing takes place in the northern-most bordering district of Ghotki, far away from southern Sindh milling belt. The district has just five milling units, which together produce more sugar than the 11 districts combined (from the bottom).
Why? Because the five districts located in Deharki-Ubaro region of Ghotki district benefit from excess sugarcane cultivated across the provincial border in southern Punjab region of Sadiqabad-Rahim Yar Khan. But that’s not all.
All five units located south of Punjab-Sindh border are in fact owned by milling families of the southern Punjab region, that are also engaged in large-scale sugarcane farming – along the lines of both traditional and corporate models.
This means that mills in the region are not only able to benefit from the southern Punjab sugarcane belt not only due to proximity, but also due to intra-group dynamics. When cane is in surplus supply in Punjab, millers procure it just the same and transport it across to own units in Sindh, in order to deter farmers from switching to substitute crops in the following season as a result of delay in payments against cane supply.
Ghotki district alone represents close to one-third of sugarcane milled in Sindh – yet, its high share is driven more by dynamics across the province than due to political economy of the province itself.
The next time Sindh’s native political families are put in the dock for their ‘nexus’ with the sugar milling industry, remember that they are no longer the biggest player in the province – let alone the country
Copyright Business Recorder, 2019.