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Brazil: GM sugar cane with a 25 percent yield increase expected in 10 years

(04 August 2009) A new variety of sugar cane promising yield increases up to 25 percent, while being more drought-tolerant than conventional strains, is expected to be commercially available in Brazil by 2020. That is the aim of a cooperation agreement between the German chemical company BASF and the Brazilian research centre CTC.

In a joint statement to the press, the companies said that they wish to combine their expertise in order to develop a new variety of sugar cane, in which the current average yield of 80 tonnes per hectare would be increased to 100 tonnes.

While BASF will primarily contribute its experience in plant biotechnology and "highly promising genes" from the company’s gene database, CTC’s (Centro de Tecnologia Canaviera) strengths lie in sugar cane breeding. Founded 40 years ago, the research centre has been involved in genetic engineering for some time now.

CTC CEO Nilson Zaramella Boeta said that the cooperation should bring about "a great leap in sugar cane quality and productivity" and "support Brazil’s position as the leading global player in sugar, ethanol and energy".

Brazil annually harvests some 500 million tonnes of sugar cane, making it the world’s largest producer. In addition to sugar, bioethanol is the primary product produced. All commercially available fuels in Brazil contain 20-25 percent bioethanol. The majority of newly licenced vehicles are equipped with engines that could run on mixtures of up to 100 percent.

Brazil has the biggest market share of biofuels worldwide. When compared to current world market prices for crude oil, sugarcane-based bioethanol is significantly cheaper in Brazil than conventional petroleum. 1.2 million tonnes of bioethanol were exported from Brazil to the USA alone in 2008.

Further deforestration for ethanol production is not a threat, said the companies. Sugar cane for ethanol production will be cultivated on just one percent of the total land available for agricultural purposes. Besides, the rain forests are more than 1000 kilometers from the cultivation areas.


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