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The paper has estimated the demand for human labour use in sugarcane and other competing crops and changes over time in its use in major cane-growing states. It has also examined the supply-demand gap in human labour for sugarcane and has provided some coping strategies. The study, based on the primary as well as secondary data on the use of human labour for sugarcane for the past 30 years (1980 to 2010), has found that sugarcane cultivation is least mechanized and most labour-intensive in almost all major canegrowing states of India. The labour-use per hectare has increased in all the cane-growing states, except Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra. Study has revealed that the proportion of casual labour has increased over the years in sub-tropical states because of less availability of family labour for cane cultivation. The assured labour in the form of family + attached labour is on decline, impacting sugarcane cultivation adversely. Arduous work and inhuman working conditions, lack of female participation and disintegrating traditional system of cane harvesting have been identified as the major constraints for the increasing demand and supply gaps in sugarcane cultivation. The shortage of labour is reported to hit all sugarcane cultivation operations, driving up the costs and a decline in the profit margin of farmers. The study has also found that area under cane cultivation has reduced drastically in Haryana and cane yield is stagnant or declining in Maharashtra. The coping strategies for reducing demand-supply gap suggested in the paper are: R&D efforts towards development of sugarcane harvester; development of suitable crop geometry to facilitate the movement of machineries up to the knee-high stage of the crop; change in the traditional system of cane planting for fast germination to avoid weed menace and curtailing labour requirement; popularization of cane planting by machines developed at IISR, Lucknow and popularization of multifunctional ratoon management device. The sugar mills must evolve a sound cane development plan in their cane command areas for purchase of machinery and tie up with the manufacturers and research organizations. This will help in ensuring mechanization of cane operations and avoid forced scarcity of labour in situations of labour diversion to schemes like MGNREGS.


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