Since ages, India has been known as the land of agriculture. Though the country is technologically progressing at the same rate as the microorganisms progress in the log phase, it still has agriculture deeply rooted in day to day life. That being said, India stands at the number one position when it comes to the production of sugar.
Most of the parts in India have an optimum environment and enriched soil for the cultivation of sugarcane. Yet, due to various factors, the quality of sugarcane produce degrades. Hence, to tackle problems and find a solution by analyzing the root cause, ICAR – Sugarcane Breeding Institute, Coimbatore (ICAR – SBI) was established in the year 1912.
At the time of inception, ICAR – SBI was managed by the Director of Agriculture, Madras Presidency under British India. Dr. C. A. Barber was the First Head and Dr. T. S. Venkatraman was his Assistant. Later in the year 1950, then Sugarcane Breeding Station (SBS) was handed over to the Ministry of Food and Agriculture, Govt. of India, and eventually, Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR), took over the institute in 1969.
There were many eminent scientists like Dr. T.S. Venkatraman, Dr. Janaki Ammal, Dr. N. L. Dutt, and Dr. N. Parthasarathy who contributed to the success of ICAR – SBI. Since 2014, Dr. Bakhi Ram, a 1986 ARS batch plant breeder nicknamed as ‘cane man of India’ is currently heading the ICAR-SBI as the Director.
Funded by ICAR, SBI is full-fledged working on improving the quality of the sugarcane strains. Through dedicated research and development, ICAR SBI has been successful in developing varieties of sugarcane. This ultimately resulted in high yielding sugarcane variety in the past. The introduction of the Co variety crops for cultivation has proven successful in various parts of the world.
Co varieties evolved at this institute have been in cultivation not only in India, but also in 28 other countries. Co varieties have been spread to Australia, Bangladesh, Brazil, Burma, Central Romania, Ceylon, Congo, Dominican Republic, Egypt, Ghana, Indonesia, Jamaica, Kenya, Louisiana, Malagasy, Mexico, Natal, Nepal, Nigeria, Pakistan, Philippines, Rhodesia, Spain, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Tanzania, Thailand and Uganda. Thus serving the farming community across the globe.
History was created at then SBS in the year 1918 when ICAR – SBI produced its first inter-specific sugarcane hybrid (Co 205). The hybrid evolved by crossing noble sugarcane Saccharum officinarum with a wild species Saccharum spontaneum. This hybrid crop showed a higher amount of sucrose along with the higher amount of cane yield.
Praising ICAR – SBI, Shri C. Subramaniam, Former Union Minister of Agriculture, in 1987 made a remark that “Agricultural sciences owes a great deal to the Sugarcane Breeding Institute which set the pattern for other agricultural research to undertake result-oriented work.”
ICAR – SBI is a Repository of World Sugarcane Germplasm and National Service. The institute is holding and maintaining 7,687 accessions of sugarcane germplasm which makes it the largest collection in the world. Over 98% of sugarcane varieties grown in India at present are either developed at this institute or from the fluffs (seeds) supplied from this institute.
Use of Modern Biology
ICAR – SBI has used the biolistic method, genetic transformation of sugarcane for the production of a resistant sugarcane gene (Bar). The institute has also developed transgenic events of borer tolerance and water stress tolerance.
Sugarcane can be used as a potential platform for molecular farming. The institute has developed a technology that expresses and directs the recombinant protein to the vacuoles of the stem parenchyma cells, which is the sugar storage site. This has led to easy extraction and low protein juice content making downstream processing easier.
Apart from this, new ubiquitin promoter for higher transgenic expression in sugarcane has been produced by the researchers at ICAR – SBI. A novel constitutive ubiquitin promoter named Port ubi2.3 has been isolated from Porteresia coarctata, a perennial halophytic grass.
The tissue culture technique in sugarcane, standardized by ICAR – SBI in 1983, has led to the development of micropropagation techniques. This technique has proven useful for the rapid multiplication of new sugarcane varieties and for rejuvenation of the old promising clones.
Seed production in sugarcane is also an integral part of ICAR – SBI. It has given training to several sugarcane seed producing agencies and is implemented as a very successful method of seed production in sugarcane.
Technologies Developed at ICAR – SBI
- The high sugared early maturing sugarcane variety Co 0238 (Karan 4), which occupied 66.1% (23.04 lakh ha) of sugarcane area of North India during 2018-19, combines two negatively correlated economic characters i.e. cane yield and sugar content has an impact of Co 0238 in U.P., Bihar, Haryana, Punjab and Uttarakhand the average cane yield increased by 19 t/ha e. from 60.0 t/ha in 2013-14 to 79 t/ha in 2017-18 whereas the sugar recovery increased by 1.49 units from 9.21 % to 10.70 %. Farmers in these states obtained additional profit of Rs. 45,405 per ha by growing Co 0238. During the period 2014-15 to 2017-18, this variety generated an additional return of Rs. 28,795 crores to the farmers and sugar mills in above subtropical states from sugar and by-products. Co 0238 has greatly contributed towards achieving the highest ever sugar production (32.3 million tonnes) in the country during 2017-18, that in turn led to a Governments’ Policy decision on permitting direct conversion of sugarcane juice into ethanol. Co 0238 thus brought in a Sweet Revolution and has benefitted the farmers and sugar industry in the country. The sugar industry nicknamed Co 0238 as ‘second wonder cane variety of subtropical India’.
- Co 86032 is regarded as wonder cane variety of tropical India. Evolved from the cross Co 62198 x CoC 671, Co 86032 was released by the CVRC in 2000 for cultivation in Peninsular Zone. It is single major variety of Tamil Nadu, Northern Karnataka, Gujarat, Maharashtra and Telangana for two decades. Co 86032 has contributed farmers in getting 17.50 t/ha to 25.00 t/ha higher cane yield than the old varieties and increased sugar recovery of mills by 0.40 to 1.50%. The additional profit earned by sugar factories in Tamil Nadu due to cultivation of Co 86032 amounted to Rs. 500 million and Rs. 270 million by jaggery farmers, totaling to about Rs.770 million.
- ICAR – SBI has developed a simple and farmer-friendly electronic Soil Moisture Indicator (SMI) device.
- The institute in collaboration with the ICAR-Central Institute of Agricultural Engineering, Regional Centre, Coimbatore has developed a sugarcane settling transplanting machine.
- Preservation techniques for storing sugarcane juice and converting fresh juice to powder for efficient storage and transport are being standardized.
- The institute has developed a Sett Treatment Device for the efficient delivery of fungicides to manage red rot and smut diseases.
- Molecular diagnostic techniques such as uniplex-, duplex- and multiplex RT-PCR were developed for RNA viruses in the Institute.
- Plant Pathology lab has been accredited with the Department of Biotechnology, New Delhi under the National Certification program of Tissue Culture raised plants (NCS-TCP) for virus indexing of tissue culture raised sugarcane plants.
- Virus indexing service is being offered to tissue culture production labs and this service is being utilized by the labs in different states.
ICAR – SBI has world-class facilities to facilitate the research and development process. It has developed and popularised Settling Transplanting Technology in the sugarcane growing region.
Research and Development Workers meetings are being organized every year in Tamil Nadu, South Karnataka and North Karnataka. Wherein the new varieties and varieties in the pipeline are discussed with cane development personnel of the sugar factories and state government officials.
Apart from this, frontline demonstrations on recent technologies and varieties are being conducted in farmers’ fields. For the benefit of farmers based on their demand, one-day training programs on ‘sugarcane agriculture’ are conducted in the institute.
ICAR – SBI also organizes a Kisan Mela of one to three days duration in the institute/center. The positive participation of cane growers from all over the country is observed in this fair. The institute also holds various awareness campaigns, field days and on-farm training programs in the village. This helps the farmers know about the latest varieties and technologies.
Opportunities for students and researchers
ICAR – Sugarcane Breeding Institute, Coimbatore offers a PG course in Sugarcane Technology (M.Sc) in coordination with Tamil Nadu Agricultural University (TNAU) under Open and Distance Learning mode. This enables personnel working in sugar mills in the country to qualify themselves with a higher degree.
In addition, the institute offers facilities to under-graduate and graduate students to undertake short term projects (3-6 months). It provides exposure training of 3-4 weeks for students who want to undergo specialized training programs in the institute.
Awards and Recognition
- Sardar Patel Outstanding Institute Award 2013 by ICAR.
- Rajbhasha Karyanwan Me Shrestha Karya Nishpadan Hetu Vishistha Purashkar in 2018 – TOLIC, Ministry of Home Affairs, GoI, Coimbatore
- Rajbhasha Shield (2017-18) – TOLIC, Ministry of Home Affairs, Govt. of India, Karnal.
- Best Hindi Book Award – TOLIC, Karnal (2017- 18) Excellent Performer Award from the AICRP (Sugarcane) – Conducting AICRP trials in the year 2018-19
- Cashless ICAR Institute Award (2017) – ICAR, New Delhi
The institute is also recognized as a collaborative research institute by Bharathiar University, Coimbatore, Anna University and Bharathidasan University, Tiruchirapalli for the PhD degree. A number of scientists from ICAR – SBI have been recognized as guides/supervisors by these universities.
ICAR – SBI will be focusing on evolving sugarcane varieties that will be tolerant of water stress and salinity (which the country is going to face in the near future). It is also planning on making a reduction in seed requirement by popularizing settling transplanting technology and/or propagation through true seed. Success of the true seed programme will change the mode of transportation of sugarcane seed through truck to pocket as 30 g seed will be sufficient to plant one hectare area against 6-8 t/ha.
The sugar industry is also emerging as a substantial source for meeting a part of the ever-increasing energy needs of the country through the co-generation of electricity and ethanol. The effort will be to integrate conventional and newer technologies in a mutually complementing way. This will also lead to technological innovations that will drive sustained growth in the sector.