India sugar imports sugarcane
India sugar imports sugarcaneReuters file

India, the world's second-largest producer of sugar, could end up as net importer of the commodity in 2016-17 (crop year), the first time in four years. The current drought-like conditions are expected to reduce sugarcane yield, thus affecting sugar output in Maharashtra, the largest sugar-producing state in the country.

"India will need to import next year due to a production shortfall," Ashok Jain, president of the Bombay Sugar Merchants Association (BSMA), told Reuters. "Drought has severely affected cane plantations in Maharashtra," he added.

Maharashtra is expected to drag down India's overall output.

"Next year, Maharashtra's production could drop below 5 million tonnes. This may pull down the total output to 22.5 million tonnes," the agency quoted BB Thombre, president of the Western India Sugar Mills Association, as saying.

India's sugar production had declined by 2 million tonnes in the October 2015-April 2016 period due to a fall in crushing activity, according to the industry body, the Indian Sugar Mills Association (ISMA). "Till 15th April 2016, 243.44 lakh (24.33 million) tons of sugar has been produced by sugar mills during the current sugar season. This is about 21.24 lakh (2.12 million) tons less than the sugar produced upto the same corresponding period last year when 264.68 lakh tons of sugar was produced," it had said in a statement on April 18.

Maharashtra, along with other states in India, has been badly affected by the El Nino weather conditions. Many small-scale sugarcane growers in the state are unable to cultivate the crop for the next sugar marketing year that starts in October, according to Reuters.

The overall impact is likely to result in production falling short of consumption for the first time in seven years, the agency added.

ISMA had estimated in March this year that exports during crop year 2015-16 could reach about 2 million (20 lakh) tonnes, of which contracts had been finalised for exporting 1.4 million (14 lakh) tonnes.

In March this year, the industry body had revised its 2015-16 crop year estimates at 260 lakh (26 million) tonnes from 270 lakh (27 million) tonnes in January this year in view of the weather conditions prevailing in major sugar-producing states such as Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh and Karnataka.