History of Sugar and Co-operative Sugar Factories in India
It is universally acknowledged that India is the homeland of sugarcane and sugar. There are references of sugarcane cultivation, its crushing and preparation of Gur ( jaggery) in Atharva Veda as well as Kautaliya’s Arthasastra.
The scribes of Alexander the Great, who came to India in 327 BC recorded that inhabitants chewed a marvelous reed which produced a kind of honey without the help of bees.
The Indian religious offerings contain five ‘Amrits’ (elixirs) like milk, curd, ghee (clarified butter), honey and sugar — which indicates how important sugar is not only as an item of consumption but as an item which influences the Indian way of life.
It is understood that sugar was initially made in India during fourth and sixth centuries by cutting sugarcane into pieces, crushing the pieces by weight to extract the juice and then boiling it to crystalise. These crystals were called ‘Sarkara’ meaning gravel in Sanskrit. The word sugar is a derivative of ‘Sarkara’. The larger lumps were called ‘Khand’ from which the English word ‘Candy’ is derived.
Therefore it is from India that the art of making sugar went to Persia and subsequently to the world over.
Although sugarcane was being grown in India from time immemorial and sugar produced in lumps during fourth century, there was no sugar industry in India till 1904. the first sugar plant was set up at Saran in Bihar in 1904.
Story of First co-operative sugar factory in Maharashtra
Ahmednagar district had six joint stock sugar factories, three of them in Kopergaon Taluka. There was rampant exploitation of sugarcane farmers by owners of the joint stock companies.
The joint stock companies were given on long lease the land of large number of small cultivators at a very nominal rent of Re.1/- per annum/acre. On this, the joint stock companies established their own large sugarcane estate and made huge profits.
The joint stock companies paid very low price for the sugarcane and as it was not binding on them to purchase all the sugarcane grown, the cane growers had to very often burn their sugarcane fields thus making them bankrupt.
As there was no irrigation worth the name and as rainfall was scanty, the Pravara area was barren. Although the Pravara canal had come into existence in 1910, the farmers had not taken to canal irrigation.
Because of the exploitation of the joint stock companies and deriving impetus from the Malis of Saswad village, the farmers of the Loni area under the leadership of Dr. Vikhe Patil and guidance of Prof. D.R. Gadgil, Dr. Vaikunthabhai Mehta collected a share capital, registered the Pravara Cooperative Society and used that capital to set up the Pravara Cooperative Sugar Factory.
Contribution of Co Operative Factories to Society
The cooperative sugar factories has introduced many social, educational and cultural features as part of its total contribution for the well being of both farmer members and environment.
It is member controlled, non-government organisation. Loyalty of the members, based on the reciprocal assistance given continually by the factory and also on economic consideration is special characteristic of cooperative.
From the social angle, the cooperative society pay special attention to small farmers. It takes step for the welfare of its factory labour as well and provides them with all the necessary amenities. Every village in its operational area has been linked with well constructed road. A network of Schools, Colleges all contributing to the economic resurgence of the region.
Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru, when he visited Pravara Cooperative Sugar Factory in 1961 had said “I have heard about this cooperative sugar factory and had some idea of it, but a visit here and learning more about it has been a revelation. Ten years of growth since this was first started, has not only shown marked development but has begun to change the countryside. I would like people from other States to come here and see how a real cooperative is organised and run. This is an example for the nation. I wish it all success”.