Workers harvest sugarcane in a field in Maharashtra, India. Picture: REUTERS/Rajendra Jadhav
Workers harvest sugarcane in a field in Maharashtra, India. Picture: REUTERS/Rajendra Jadhav

New Delhi — In a world where sugar has attracted increasing scrutiny for its effect on health and obesity, there are moves afoot in the biggest-consuming country to persuade people to eat more of the sweetener.

Mills in India are eyeing increased consumption as a way to cut the nation’s chronic oversupply, which stems partly from the favourable incentives provided to growers in politically powerful rural areas. Due to high production costs the country finds it hard to sell sugar on the global market without subsidies.

To push forward their initiative, the mills have begun an online campaign to boost domestic demand, involving workshops and webinars, where everyone from nutritionists and endocrinologists, to public health experts and medical practitioners will share their expertise and knowledge.

“Sugar is the most preferred source of the body’s fuel for brain power, muscle energy and every natural process that goes into proper functioning of our body cells,” the Indian Sugar Mills Association said, adding that the calories in sugar are the same as calories from any other food, and it’s only when calories are not burnt adequately or too many are consumed, that body weight increases.

Consumption in India has stagnated at 19kg per capita per year compared with a global average of 23kg as social media campaigns saying the cane-based sweetener is unhealthy discourage people from eating it, according to the association. Per capita consumption growth between 2000 and 2016 was among the lowest in the world, it said.

If per capita consumption rises to the global average, domestic demand will climb by 5.2-million tonnes a year, according to Sudhanshu Pandey, the top bureaucrat at the food ministry. That would slash the surplus, cut overseas sales and save the government money by reducing export subsidies.

India, also the world’s second-biggest producer, exported a record 5.65-million tonnes in 2019-20, with the help of these subsidies, which are opposed by Australia, Brazil and Guatemala. Mills are aiming to ship 6-million tonnes in 2020/2021 with production expected to rise 13% after good rains boosted planting.


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