SATrends Issue 45                                                                                                                  August 2004

  • Sweet sorghum for ethanol
  • Killing me softly!
  • Fungi vs fungi
  • Moringa the Miracle Tree
  • 1. Sweet sorghum for ethanol

    Sweet sorghum (Sorghum bicolor) is similar to grain sorghum with a sugar-rich stalk, almost like sugarcane. The sugar content varies from 16-23% Brix. Besides having wide adaptability, rapid growth, high sugar accumulation and biomass production potential, sweet sorghum, is tolerant to drought, water logging, and soil salinity and acidity toxicities. The partnership-sweet sorghum varieties, hybrids and the technologies developed by ICRISAT hold high promise for the farmers of the semi-arid tropics. The water requirement and crop growth duration of sweet sorghum is much lower than that of sugarcane, whose byproduct (molasses) is traditionally used for ethanol production. The ethanol production process from sweet sorghum is more eco-friendly than that of sugarcane molasses. The ethanol can be blended with petrol for producing Gasohol. The grains from sweet sorghum can be used for food or feed.

    At 5,600 liters per hectare per year (over two crops, at 70 tons per hectare of millable stalk per crop at 40 liters per ton), the ethanol production from sweet sorghum compares well with the 6,500 liters per ha per crop for sugarcane (at 85-90 tons per hectare of millable cane per crop at 75 liters per ton).

    One of the sweet sorghums grown by ICRISAT.

    ICRISAT renewed the program for the identification and development of sweet sorghum hybrid parents and varieties in 2002. Promising lines such as ICSB 631 and ICSB 264 among the seed parents; and Seredo, ICSR 93034, S 35, ICSV 700, ICSV 93046, E 36-1, NTJ 2 and Entry 64 DTN among the varieties/male parents were identified for their high stalk sugar content (sugar percentage ranged from 16.8% to 21.6%). A special Sweet Sorghum Hybrid (SSH) 104 developed at the National Research Center for Sorghum, Hyderabad, from ICSA 38, an ICRISAT-bred male-sterile (seed) parent and SSV 84, a male parent bred in the Indian program is being recommended for release for commercial cultivation.

    The Agri-Business Incubator (ABI) at ICRISAT has signed a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) with Rusni Distilleries Pvt. Ltd. of Hyderabad to incubate the ethanol production technology using ICRISAT-bred sweet-stalk sorghum lines. ICRISAT signed another MOA with Vasanthadada Sugar Institute, Pune, for identification/development of improved sweet sorghum varieties, characterizing the juice, and ethanol quality and quantity, and also providing process technology to Rusni Distilleries through ABI.

    In India, the estimated requirement for ethanol to blend with petrol (at 10%) is about 1000 m liters, and for blending with diesel (at 5%) another 3000 m liters. Total ethanol requirement including other purposes is 5000 m liters. The possible ethanol production from available sugarcane molasses (8.2 m tones) and other sources is 2000 m liters. This leaves a gap of 3000 m liters of ethanol. The deficit of ethanol can be made good if sweet sorghum varieties are developed and their cultivation is promoted for ethanol production.

    ICRISAT is hopeful that private seed companies in India will complement the efforts of the national program in the development of location-specific hybrids (using hybrid parents developed in ICRISAT and the national program) to meet the expected increased demand for raw material for ethanol production in the years to come.

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    2. Killing me softly!

    Money spent on chemical pesticides is generally 50% of the total input costs of raising a crop. The Cotton-boll-worm (Helicoverpa armigera) is a major insect-pest of cotton. The same insect is also called legume pod-borer and bores into the pods of legumes such as pigeonpea, and eventually into the lives of poor farmers. This insect has now developed resistance to several pesticides.

    ICRISAT and partners developed an eco-friendly protocol to protect crops from insect-pests, which was evaluated at ICRISAT Patancheru for five years on different crops. It involves six items, besides small changes in agronomy. Two of these are extracts of two herbs Neem (Azadirachta indica) and Gliricidia sepium (a leguminous tree), prepared using a biological method developed at ICRISAT. Two others are traditionally known to farmers. The last two are microorganisms, research products of ICRISAT i) a bacterium [Bacillus subtilis strain BCB19,], ii) Metarrhizium anisopliae, a fungus. A bacterial strain CDB35 (Pseudomonas fluorescence) that promotes plant growth and solubilizes insoluble-P was applied to the soil at sowing. Trap crops were also employed.

    Stakeholders admiring the cotton in Kothapally.

    In 2003/04, the protocol was evaluated on-farm in the village Kothapally in the Andhra state of India. It was apparent that farmers wanted to evaluate the protocol on cotton. ICRISAT scientists were also looking for a more challenging crop and were satisfied with a trap crop for cotton. Scientists of the Acharya NG Ranga Agricultural University, Hyderabad, were partners in this evaluation. 

    Each farmer agreed to experiment on a 4000 m2 plot, divided into two equal parts. One part used chemical pesticides, called Farmers’ Practice (FP) and the other used the low-cost materials, indicated above (we called it Biopesticides -- BIO)
    Fifteen to 17 sprays were made on cotton in most fields.  Data was collected from each farmer after harvest. The result?  BIO plots remained productive for about 3-weeks longer than the FP plots that senesced suddenly and yielded 30% more cotton than the FP plots (1.87 t ha-1). In addition to yield benefits, all the participating farmers saved at least Rs 4800/- (1US$ = Rs. 45 approximately) in the BIO plots.

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    3. Fungi vs fungi

    Groundnut (Arachis hypogaea L.) is the major oilseed crop in the rain-fed farming system of the tropics. It is also a valuable source of vitamins E, K and B. Recently, there is a greater interest in promoting groundnut export, and in using it as a confectionery item worldwide.

    Developed countries, which import groundnut, have set aflatoxin contamination limits for foodstuff ranging from zero to 10µgkg-1 and this has resulted in import restrictions on aflatoxin-contaminated produce. Contamination of groundnut kernels by aflatoxins produced by Aspergillus flavus is a major problem affecting quality and trade of groundnut and its products.

    Aspergillus flavus is a widely distributed fungus that survives in soil as spores under extremely dry conditions. Among several management options, biological control plays a significant role in reducing pre-harvest aflatoxin contamination in groundnut, which is environmentally safe and compatible with sustainable agriculture. The species of fungi called Trichoderma have been investigated as biocontrol agents for over 70 years. Trichoderma spp. control plant pathogens either by antagonism or mycoparasitism.

    Effect of Trichoderma on groundnut yield. Left: control, Right: treated.

    Biocontrol potential of 212 isolates of Trichoderma spp. was assessed in a study at ICRISAT-Patancheru to reduce the pre-harvest aflatoxin contamination in groundnut. Forty-eight of the 212 isolates exhibited antagonistic potential against A. flavus. These 48 isolates, based on morphological traits were identified into 10 different species.

    Enzymes being the main weapon of a biocontrol agent, the ability of Trichoderma isolates to produce chitinases, glucanases and proteases was investigated with promising results. Based on their ability to produce cellulolytic enzymes and their antagonistic behavior, seven Trichoderma isolates belonging to six different species were selected for the management of aflatoxins in greenhouse and field experiments.

    Among the biocontrol agents T. harzianum (isolate T 20) and T. koningii (isolate T 83) were consistent in reducing the population of A. flavus under greenhouse and field conditions. The biocontrol agents were effective even when they were few in number. Trichoderma spp. continued to survive and grow well in the rhizosphere of the groundnut up to harvest in both Rabi and Kharif seasons.

    All the treatments, except the isolate T 24, effectively reduced aflatoxin contamination. All the seven Trichoderma spp. effectively reduced the seed infection and aflatoxin contamination by A. flavus over control under field conditions.

    It is evident that the isolates with maximum ability to produce cellulolytic enzymes, like chitinases have performed well in the greenhouse and field conditions showing a good correlation. Consequently, these biocontrol agents improved the pod and seed yields.

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    4. Moringa the Miracle Tree

    The Moringa(Moringa oilefera) has been nicknamed 'The Miracle Tree' by Lowell Fuglie the Editor of a book bearing the same name.The Moringa is native to India but has been naturalized in many other countries, and has other names – the benzolive tree (Haiti), horseradish tree (USA) and drumstick tree (India).Besides its common use as a vegetable (leaves and fruit are both edible), it has medicinal and other properties.The seeds are rich in a quality oil. The pulp of the seeds makes an effective coagulant, which can be used to clean turbid waters; leaves are an excellent supplement for livestock feed and in Haiti, tea from the flowers is drunk for colds. 

    A young Moringa tree inset with flowers.

    It is difficult to kill a Moringa tree. It recovers extremely well from mismanagement, earning it the sobriquet Nébéday (a distortion of “never dies”) in Senegal. In the Housa language they call it El Mecca - the plant from Mecca.

    The leaves of the Moringa are used as a tasty vegetable in West Africa and in the Philippines. In India and other parts of Asia the pods are a common vegetable, and paste of the bark makes a pungent sandwich spread. In Niger, as in other countries, Moringa trees are usually grown in home gardens.

    In the Sahel, Moringa is a women's undertaking both for harvesting and selling on a commercial scale. A sack full of Moringa leaves is sold at $4-$8 depending on the season. Annual income from a single tree is $1,500.

    If the tree is called 'The Miracle Tree' then the Variety PKM 1 that has recently been developed in India should be called 'The Miracle Variety' of the tree. PKM 1 was developed in India for its large pods and the huge pod yield. It also produces large quantities of leaves tastier than those of other varieties.

    An organoleptic test of PKM 1 done recently at ICRISAT-Niamey found the variety to be superior in taste compared to local varieties and to a relative from East Africa called Moringa stenopetala.

    One hundred grams of dry Moringa leaves contain 27g protein, 2,000mg Ca 20.5mg Riboflavin17mg Vitamin C, and Vitamins B, E and the whole range of Amino acids. Adding Moringa powder to the diet of undernourished children enhances their appetite and increases their weight, and for nursing mothers it markedly increases lactation.

    Moringa is drought-tolerant and grows with rainfalls of 250-1500 mm per year.Moringa should be promoted in developing countries as a tree with leaves of very high nutritional value, easy to grow, harvest and process.

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