|Food Chain No. 18 - July 1996 (ITDG, 1996, 16 p.)|
I was delighted that Food Chain published the article by Andy Russell on the OPS process for making sugar. I hope it is not too late to save this industry, which was once of enormous importance - it provided direct employment to well over a million people and provided a service to at least as many farmers. The OPS process is potentially of interest to many developing countries. My only comment on the article is that it did not fully address the basic problems of the industry - the desperate need both for properly directed research and for proper training of workers.
The OPS industry has survived in India largely as a result of exemptions from various government regulations, rather than through its own merits. Both the design of the equipment and the way that it is used contribute to the inefficiency of the process. A detailed study I made of an OPS factory some years ago convinced me that, with well directed assistance, it might be possible to improve the efficiency of the process to an extent that few people would imagine. Such an improvement would have an enormous impact on the economics of the process and make the OPS system much more attractive in comparison with its competitors, for markets and for suppliers of cane.
It is a reflection of the strength of the industry that it has survived for so long with so little infrastructure - during the last 30 years there have been few training courses for workers in the OPS industry and very little effective research has been done. There are very few properly trained people coming up through the ranks to replace the foremen who have kept the factories running over the last 30 years and who will inevitably be retiring during the next few years. Unless something is done quickly, what is left of the industry will certainly collapse.
If it is to survive, the OPS process must become much more efficient, and although I am convinced that this can be achieved, when I made proposals to the OPS industry trade association that would have modernized the OPS process, they seemed to be interested only in promoting mini' vacuum pan factories. I hope Mr Russell will be more successful than I was, and that his article will stimulate interested parties to get together to try to give this rural industry the chance to survive into the 21st century and provide benefits to countries which for one reason or another cannot support a factory making sugar in the conventional way.
Best regards, Yours sincerely
J. E. Cecil