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History of Variety Development PDF Print

Until the end of the 19th century, sugarcane was cultivated by the vegetative propagation of a small number of varieties coming from three Saccharum species: S. Officinarum, S. Sinense and S. Barberi.
On the strength of work by Soltwedel in 1888, the first improvement programmes were developed in Java, India, Mauritius and Hawaii. At that time, the crosses strategy was based exclusively on hybridizations within S. Officinarum, which was generally accepted to be the “noble” species. These programmes were very successful, obtaining varieties that could be cultivated on a wide scale. Apart from gains in productivity, one of the main aims of these genetic improvement programmes was to combat sugarcane diseases.
It rapidly became clear that the genetic diversity of the S. Officinarum species was insufficient in this respect. The first interspecific crosses between the “noble” species and the “wild” species S. Spontaneum were therefore carried out in Java. The process consisting in crossing S. Officinarum and S. Spontaneum, then backcrossing the resulting varieties with S. Officinarum was called “nobilisation”. S. Spontaneum provided genes with resistance to diseases, but also adaptation criteria for a greater diversity of cultural conditions (vigour, tillering, resistance to cold and drought, ratooning ability). The varieties obtained from these crosses provided substantial gains in productivity in terms of sugar yields per hectare.
Traditional variety improvement, particularly in Reunion Island, was then based on crosses between varieties obtained through nobilisation. Hence, certain hybrids such as POJ 2878 and Co 290 are found in the genealogy of most modern cultivars.