DR MUHAMMAD IJAZ TABASSUM - “Punjab has a lot of excellent sugarcane research potential but its results need to be exploited, through adoption by the sugar industry”. This was commented by Dr Jack Charles Comstock, being chief guest in the first international workshop of research and development activities on sugarcane plant improvement. He said Pakistan has achieved 5th position in acreage and 6th number in sugar production in the world. He emphasized red rot is a major threat to Pakistan sugarcane crop and hence decreases yield. Pakistan totally relied on import of sugarcane variety and import of fuzz, which also disseminated the threat in yield and this threat can be minimized by adopting national sugarcane crossing and variety developmental program. Sugarcane Research & Development Board (SRDB) in Punjab province is the suitable forum and it may tackle the challenges. However, due to excellent sugarcane research conditions in the country, I can see a good future of sugar industry in Pakistan.

The idea to conduct 1st international workshop on sugarcane plant improvement was floated by Chairman, SRDB, Govt of Punjab, Nauman Ahmad Khan, to accomplish his vision that is facilitating high quality research, development and extension activities for the technical progress and profitability of the Punjab sugarcane industry through sustainable production systems and the idea was implemented by acting CEO, SRDB, Dr Shahid Afghan.

SRDB is actually a vision shaped by Chief Minister Punjab Muhammad Shahbaz Sharif in 2014, with the aim to harmonize, enhance and facilitate research and development activities in sugarcane crop in public and private sector. Prior to this mega event, SRDB conducted farmers days at the doorstep of farmers in six different districts of the province like Sargodha, Faisalabad, Jhang, Sahiwal, Layyah and Rahimyarkhan. More than two hundred farmers participated in each seminar, elevated their knowledge to enhance sugarcane productivity and profitability.

Farmers/cane staff observed at the spot the package of technology being run with the help of machines and implements at govt level by Sugarcane Research Institute (SRI), Faisalabad. Moreover, 2-day seminar for cane staff and progressive farmers was also held at farm of SRI, Faisalabad with the caption to the ailment infestation squeeze the yield of sugarcane crop.

One-day workshop was held on August 9, 2017. The main theme of this workshop was to pool the plant breeding activities taken at breeding institutes of Pakistan under the umbrella of SRDB, so that the pace of sugarcane with the aim of evolving new varieties with desired characters from local fuzz is gained. Plant breeders belonging to different research institutes across the country participated and presented their research and development program on sugarcane.

Dr Jack C Comstock, sugarcane pathologist and variety development consultant, told about his 15 years of affiliation with sugarcane advancement through fuzz/clonal exchange programs. He discussed in detail about sugarcane variety background in Pakistan. He put light on Census of Varieties with CP (Canal Point) germplasm as breeding strategy, yield of released and promising varieties, potential of clones in the pipeline and potential impact of these varieties.

Dr Shahid Afghan, Chief Executive Officer, Sugarcane Research and Development Board, presented his keynote by congratulating all stakeholders for record sugar production in 2016-17. He identified flaws in the availability of early, medium and late maturing varieties in Pakistan that hinders desired performance and utilization of crushing season, so, with available maturity group, there should be more than a one variety in commercial cultivation; this is to avoid any unexpected epidemics. He proposed sugarcane selection breeding model in which Pakistan should have at least 100000 original seedlings in the first year. He urged different research institutions to start collaboration in exchange of material before National Uniform Varietal Yield Trials (NUVYT), preferably at advance line stage with around 500 clones. It was also told that SRDB is collaborating internationally with ARS-USDA, USA, CTC Brazil, CENGICANA Guatemala, Kasetsart University Thailand, SRI, Sri Lanka and Visa-cane CIRAD France for exchange of material both in terms of fuzz and clones. He concluded that the economic gains of improved and better site-specific varieties will enhance profitability of sugar mills and the living standards of the growers.

Dr Abid Mahmood, Director General (Research) Ayub Agriculture Research Institute, Faisalabad stated on the occasion that Sugarcane Research Institute (SRI), Faisalabad is striving to achieve the target for evolving sugarcane varieties under currently global warming era. Therefore, sugarcane clones are also evaluating under drought, frost and alkaline areas. Moreover, evolving site specific varieties is another issue of this age. Sugarcane scientists are working day and night to resolve these issues for attaining self sufficiency in the country. Uptill now 24 varieties have been evolved at SRI, Faisalabad. Dr Abid said, now, farmers can get more yields from these varieties by adopting complete package of technology developed by the department.

Dr Naeem Ahmad, Director Sugarcane Research Institute (SRI), Faisalabad , Dr Syed Zia ul Hussnain, from Fatima Sugar Mill, Kot Addu, Amir Shahzad from Shakarganj Sugar Research Institute (SSRI) Jhang, Muhammad Tahir Khan from Nuclear Institute for Agriculture, Tando Jam, Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission, Dr Muhammad Tahir, Sugar Crops Research Institute (SCRI), Mardan, Riaz Noor Panhwar from National Sugar and Tropical Horticulture Research Institute (NSTHRI), Pakistan Agriculture Research Council (PARC) Makli, Thatta, G M Kaloi, Senior Scientific Officer, NSTHRI, PARC, Thatta, Dr Muhammad Ijaz Tabassum and Muhammad Farooq Ahmad from SRI, Faisalabad also presented the lectures in the workshop. Continuing to support foreign training of young Pakistani scientists and initiating National Crossing and Variety Development Program in Pakistan in cooperation with SRDB (Punjab) are the main features of recommendations of this workshop.