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Farmers set fire to imported sugar in Uttar Pradesh

LUCKNOW (Reuters) - Farmers in India’s biggest cane-producing state set fire to part of a goods train carrying raw sugar imports from Brazil, police and unions said on Sunday.

In Uttar Pradesh, farmers have demanded a higher price on produce, threatened to stop selling to mills and said they will not let imported sugar into the state.

Mills buy cane from farmers at a rate fixed by the state government.

The state government raised the mandatory cane price by about 17-18 percent to 165-170 rupees per 100 kg for different varieties but millers said the rise was too steep, while farmers said they deserved more as sugar prices had doubled in a year.

The farmers say importing raw sugar restricts the negotiating power they have when trying to persuade the mills to buy Indian cane at a higher price.

“We protested the entry of raw sugar in the state and therefore burnt a few sacks while demanding the authorities to take the consignment back,” Raksh Tikait, a farmers’ union leader said.

The sugar was on its way to mills in the western part of Uttar Pradesh, which grows about half the country’s total cane.

Part of the consignment on the train had already been unloaded and delivered. The rest was sent back because of the protest, state police officer Rajesh Kumar Singh said.

India, the world’s top consumer of the sweetener, bought about 5 million tonnes of sugar, mostly raws, in 2008/09 after exporting a similar quantity in the previous year, as farmers switched to other crops that paid better.

This year, the worst monsoon in 37 years has ravaged cane fields, creating a shortage for the second consecutive year.

According to trade officials, Indian buyers are poised to sign deals for imports of up to 2 million tonnes of raw sugar as the fall in global prices and the rise in Indian rates have made purchases viable after nearly two months.

Reporting by Alka Pande; Editing by Matthias Williams