Sugarcane in Africa
Sugarcane is an important crop for food and energy production, thanks to its capacity to accumulate high levels of sugar in its stems and its typical high-biomass yield. As a source of income and employment, sugarcane-based agriculture could play a role in in the economic development of Sub-Saharan Africa. Energy represents an urgent need for all Sub-Saharan African countries. In these regions, locally produced energy is an attractive option for addressing the energy gap. With its tropical and subtropical climate, Sub-Saharan Africa is well-suited in many ways to expand sugarcane production.
The Facts Series “Sugarcane in Africa” reviews the opportunities and challenges for sugarcane production in Sub-Saharan Africa. Ethanol production does not necessarily require additional cane production, or does not impact sugar production, because ethanol can be produced from sugarcane bagasse, which is an underutilized by-product of sugar factories. Cellulosic ethanol has the potential to nearly double the amount of fuel that can be produced without increasing the area planted with sugarcane and without competing with food security. The development of high sugar and biomass-yielding sugarcane is key for improving the value and sustainability of the sugarcane industry in Sub-Saharan Africa. To unlock sugarcane industry potential, a number of enabling conditions need to be reached vis-à-vis, for instance, environmentally sustainable production, infrastructure, trade policy, research and development, and financial services.
Some Facts and Figures
Sugarcane accounts for about 80% of the sugar produced worldwide; the remaining 20% is produced from sugar beet.
Sugarcane is considered one of the best converters of solar energy into biomass and sugar, with a conversion efficiency of 2.24-2.29%, compared to maize at 0.2%.
Compared to the three major cereal crops (maize, rice and wheat), which collectively occupy 41% of the world’s cropland, sugarcane is the highest-yielding crop in tonnage worldwide (1.9 billion tons) while it occupies only 2% of the world’s cropland.
Africa contributes only 5% of the current global sugarcane production, and 83% of this is in Sub-Saharan Africa. The Sub-Saharan Africn region, with its tropical and subtropical climate, is well-suited in many ways to expanding the production of sugarcane.
The crop is emerging as a versatile resource, diversifying into a wide range of value-added products that go beyond food/sugar, particularly bioethanol and bioelectricity but also bioplastics, biohybrocarbons and biochemicals. As such, it favors low carbon development.
Ethanol production does not necessarilyrequire additional cane production, or does not impact sugar production, because ethanol can be produced from sugarcane bagasse, which is an unterutilized by-product of sugar factories.
Cellulosic ethanol has the potential to nearly double the amount of fuel that can be produced without increasing the area planted with sugarcane and without competing with food industry.
The development of hight sugar and biomass-yielding sugarcane is key for improving the value and sustainability of the sugarcane industry in Sub-Saharan-Africa.
The competitiveness of biofuels over other options can be helped by biotechnology to improve the biomass yield and the feestock composition for biofuels.
Sugarcane has one of the most complex genomes among cultivated plants, with a high level of polyploidy, high heterozygosity and large amounts of repetitive DNA sequences. This complexity renders our understanding of sugarcane genetics, and our ability to improve the crops, laborious.
Despite sugarcan’s economic importance and significant efforts made by several international research groups, a reference genome is still unavailable today.