Since replanting is an expensive exercise that must generate returns over the following decade, it is important to choose varieties wisely.

SASRI produces high-yielding, pest, and disease-resistant sugarcane varieties to suit a wide range of bioclimatic conditions and cutting cycles. These varieties are pivotal for successful sugarcane enterprises within South Africa, and throughout Africa.

Our breeding programme owes its success to well-qualified experienced research and support staff, working in modern, well-equipped facilities and research farms.

Dr Marvellous Zhou

Senior Plant Breeder


Senior Plant Breeder

Tel: 031 508 7400 (Switchboard)
Tel: 031 508 7534 (Direct)

Role & Overall Purpose

To plan, develop and implement breeding and selection strategies for the production of high yielding, disease and pest resistant sugarcane varieties adapted to the major agro-bioclimatic zones of the SA sugar industry.

  • Early generation and family selection of sugarcane.
  • Genotype by environment interaction.
  • Applied Quantitative Genetics.
  • Experimental design.
  • Applied Statistical analysis.
Research Interests

Optimising sugarcane breeding and selection process, quantifying optimum selection rates to maximise genetic gains, GxE interaction, trait interrelationships and their influence on breeding and selection, parent evaluation using breeding values, family selection, recurrent selection to improve commercial traits in gene pool.

Key Outcomes
  • Optimised breeding and selection process.
  • Quantified selection rates for important traits.
  • Increased genetic gains across stages and over time.
Key Publications

Zhou, M.M. and Gwata E.C.T. (2016). Quantifying Sugarcane Cultivar Genetic Gains in the Midlands region of South Africa. Agronomy Journal 108: 1-7.

Zhou, M.M. and Gwata, E.C.T. (2015). Location effects and their implications on breeding for sugarcane yield and quality in the Midlands region of South Africa. Crop Science 55: 2628-2638.

Zhou, M.M. (2015). Selection for eldana borer resistance in early stages of sugarcane breeding in South Africa. American Journal of Plant Sciences 6: 2168 – 2176.

Zhou, M.M. and Mokwele, A. (2015). Family versus individual genotype selection for Eldana saccharina resistance in early stages of sugarcane breeding. South African Journal of Plant and Soil 2015: 1-8.

Zhou, M.M. (2015). Minimum detectable differences for cane yield, sucrose content and sugar yield among the Midlands and coastal short cycle breeding programmes in South Africa. South African Journal of Plant and Soil 32: 175-182.

Mendes de Paula, T.O., Marinho, C.D., Souza, V., Barbosa, M.H.P., Peternelli, L.A., Kimbeng, C.A. and Zhou, M.M. (2014). Relationships between methods of variety adaptability and stability in sugarcane. Genetics and Molecular Research 13(2): 4216–4225.

Zhou, M.M. (2014). Family evaluation for sugarcane yield using data estimated from stalk number, stalk height and stalk diameter. Journal of Crop Improvement 28(3): 406-417.

Joshi, S.V., Zhou, M.M., Leslie, G.W., Way, M.J. and Keeping, M.G. (2014). Comparison of methods for determining thrips (Fulmekiola serrata) damage and implications for resistance screening. International Sugar Journal. 116: 197-199.

Zhou, M.M., Kimbeng, C.A., Tew, T.L., Gravois, K.A., Pontif, M. and Bischoff, K.P. (2014). Logistic regression models to aid selection in early stages of sugarcane breeding. Sugar Tech: 16: 150-156.

Zhou, M.M., Kimbeng, C.A., Andru, S., Tew, T.L. and Gravois, K.A. (2013). Evaluating sugarcane families for yield potential and repeatability using random coefficient models. Crop Science 53: 2352-2362.

Zhang, J., Zhou, M.M., Walsh, J. Chen, Y. and Ming, R. (2013). Sugarcane Genetics and Genomics. Pp 623-643. In: Moore, PH and Botha, FC, eds. Sugarcane: Physiology, Biochemistry, and Functional Biology. John Wiley & Sons. ISBN-13: 978-0-8138-2121-4\2014.

Zhou, M.M. (2013). Conventional sugarcane breeding in South Africa: Progress and future prospects. American Journal of Plant Sciences 4: 189-197.

Zhou, M.M. (2013). Using Logistic regression model for selection in non-replicated sugarcane breeding populations. Euphytica 191: 415-428.

Zhou, M.M., Kimbeng, C.A., Edme, S. and Hale, A.L. (2013). Characterization of Saccharum species germplasm for starch content. Canadian Journal of Plant Studies Vol 2(1) 54-71.

Zhou, M.M., Lichakane, M.L. and Joshi, S.V. (2013). Family evaluation for quality traits in South African Sugarcane breeding programmes. International Sugar Journal 115: 418-430.

Ramburan, S., Zhou, M.M., and Labuschagne, M. (2012). Integrating empirical and analytical approaches to investigate genotype x environment interactions in sugarcane. Crop Science 52(5): 2153–2165.

Zhou, M.M. and Lichakane, M.L. (2012). Family selection gains for quality among South African breeding populations. South African Journal of Plant and Soil 29: 143-149.

Zhou, M.M., Suman, A. and Kimbeng, C.A. (2012). Molecular markers associated with starch content and implications for sugarcane introgression breeding using Saccharum spontaneum. Journal of Agricultural Science and Technology Vol 2(11): 1127-1137.

Zhou, M.M. and Shoko, M.D. (2012). Simultaneous selection for yield and ratooning ability in sugarcane genotypes using analysis of covariance. South African Journal of Plant and Soil 29(2): 93-100.

Zhou, M.M., Chihana, A. and Parfitt, R.C. (2012). Optimum replications and crop-years for sugarcane variety trials at Dwangwa sugar estate in Malawi. South African Journal of Plant and Soil 29(1): 31–38.

Zhou, M.M. and Joshi, S.V. (2012). Trends in broad sense heritability and implications for sugarcane breeding in South Africa. Sugar Tech 14(1): 40–46.

Ramburan, S., Zhou, M.M. and Labuschagne, M. (2012). Investigating test site similarity, trait relations and causes of genotype by environment interactions in the Midlands region of South Africa. Field Crops Research 129: 71–80.

Zhou, M.M. and Shoko, M.D. (2012). Simultaneous selection for yield and stability in sugarcane using parametric statistics. Journal of Agricultural Science and Technology Volume 2 Number 4: 400-410.

Zhou, M.M., Joshi, S.V. and Maritz, T. (2012). Trends and implications of genotype by environment interaction in South African sugarcane breeding. Journal of Crop Improvement 26: 1–14.

Ramburan, S., Zhou, M.M. and Labuschagne, M. (2011). Interpretation of genotype x environment interactions of sugarcane: Identifying significant environmental factors. Field Crops Research 124: 392–399.

Zhou, M.M., Kimbeng, C.A., Tew, T.L., Gravois, K.A. and Pontiff, P. (2011). Artificial Neural Network Models as a Decision Support Tool for Selection in Sugarcane: A Case Study Using Two Seedling Populations. Crop Science 51: 1–11.

Zhou, M.M. and Shoko, M.D. (2011). Seasonal and Varietal Influence on Tiller Population Development of Sugarcane (Saccharum species hybrids). South African Journal of Plant and Soil 28(1): 11–16.

Zhou, M.M., Kimbeng, C.A., Tew, T.L. and Shoko, M.D. (2011). Trends in Starch and Sucrose Content among Sweet Sorghum Genotypes and Implications for Sucrose and Ethanol Production. Journal of Agricultural Science and Technology 5: 160–166.

Zhou, M.M., Kimbeng, C.A., Edme, S., Hale, A. and Eggleston, G. (2011). Sustainability of Low Starch Concentrations in Sugarcane Through Short Term Optimized Amylase and Long Term Breeding Strategies. In G Eggleston (editor). Sustainability of the Sugar and Sugar Ethanol Industries. American Chemical Society: 229-250.

Zhou, M.M., da Silva, J.A., Kimbeng, C.A. and White, W.H. (2010). Cross Resistance between the Mexican Rice Borer and the Sugarcane Borer (Lepidoptera: Crambidae): A Case Study Using Sugarcane Breeding Populations. Crop Science 50: 1–9.

Zhou, M.M. and Kimbeng, C.A. (2010). Multivariate Repeated Measures: A Multivariate Statistical Approach for Analyzing Sugarcane Breeding Trials Data. Proceedings of SASTA 83: 92–105.

White, W.H., Kimbeng, C.A., Gravois, K.A. and Zhou, M.M. (2009). Breeding Resistant Sugarcane for Managing Stem borers: Progress and Prospects for Louisiana. Proceeding of the International Society of Sugar Cane Technologists 27: 1–10.

Zhou, M.M. and Shoko, M.D. (2009). Modelling Leaf Area of Sugarcane Varieties Using Non-Destructive Leaf Measurements. Sugar Cane International: Volume 27(4): 158–165.

Kimbeng, C.A., Zhou, M.M. and da Silva, J.A. (2009). Genotype by environment interactions and resource allocation in sugarcane yield trials in the Rio Grande valley region of Texas. Journal of the American Society of Sugar Cane Technologists 29: 11–24.

Zhou, M.M., Kimbeng, C.A., Eggleston, G., Viator, R.P., Hale, A.L. and Gravois, K.A. (2008). Issues of Starch in sugarcane processing and prospects of breeding for low starch content in sugarcane. Sugarcane International 26: 3–17.

  • Associate Professor of Plant Breeding: University of the Free State.
  • PhD (Plant Breeding and Genetics), Louisiana State University, USA.
  • Masters of Applied Statistics, Louisiana State University, USA.
  • MSc Agriculture, University of Natal, South Africa.
  • BSc Agriculture (Honours), University of Zimbabwe.


* In addition to N12, SASRI has also released N12 Zapyr, an imazapyr-tolerant variety produced through mutagenic breeding (exposing sugarcane cells to a chemical mutagen in a laboratory). Usually, imazapyr applications to a fallow field are followed by a waiting period before sugarcane is planted. N12 Zapyr may be planted directly into treated soils without compromising germination.


SASRI produces an information sheet for every variety released to the industry. These sheets contain comprehensive information about yield, quality, reaction to pests and diseases and a range of other agronomic characteristics. There are also pictures and details of appearance to assist with the identification of each variety.

Seedcane Production

This manual outlines the procedures for the production of good quality seedcane. Seedcane is defined as any sugarcane plant material which is intended for use in the propagation of sugarcane. Planting good quality seedcane is crucial for profitable sugarcane production. The potential yield of a crop will not be attained if seedcane of poor quality is planted. In spite of this, seedcane production is an aspect of sugarcane management that is often neglected.

View Book

Plant Breeding Crossing & Selection Programmes

Each year SASRI plant breeders select parent varieties that will be planted in the glasshouse and photoperiod house to obtain flowers for crossing. The main goal of this programme is to select varieties suited to the major agroclimatic regions of the sugar industry.

View Book

Sugarcane quarantine in South Africa

Sugarcane clones from foreign countries are imported into South Africa to broaden the genetic base of the parental breeding stock. Imported varieties are also evaluated as potential commercial varieties. The movement of sugarcane between countries carries a risk of introducing potentially serious diseases and therefore requires stringent quarantine procedures.

View Book

Illustrative Guides

A guide to buying seedcane
English  isiZulu

Crop Modification of N12 Zapyr


SASRI Variety Guide

This interactive web-based decision support tool uses SASRI trial data to recommend varieties based on region, soil potential and preferred cutting cycle. The visually appealing and user-friendly Variety Guide enables growers and Extension Specialists to extract selected information on specific varieties quickly and in a format that allows varieties to be compared easily.

A word of caution is necessary: while the guide provides valuable information for variety choice, the suitability of the recommended varieties for your specific area and conditions must be confirmed with your Extension Specialist.

Try SASRI Variety Guide


In terms of the Sugar Act, the South African Sugar Association publishes an annual update to the Government Gazette detailing which varieties of sugarcane may be grown in each of the predefined control areas within the industry.

See varieties gazetted for each region


Varieties For Africa

Many SADC and other African countries have formal agreements with SASRI to utilise our varieties. Depending on the country and the estate in question, SA varieties constitute anything from 50 to 100% of the varieties grown.

Quarantine Service

Under licence from the government department responsible for plant quarantine, SASRI operates a world-class quarantine facility used for importing and exporting seedcane material used in local and international sugarcane breeding programmes. SASRI makes use of modern molecular techniques for detecting important sugarcane pathogens.

Extension and Biosecurity Service

SASRI Extension Specialists located throughout the South African sugar industry are available to offer advice and support on crop nutrition and all other aspects of sugarcane farming.


SASRI conducts research and implements strategies for the continual release of high yielding, adaptable, pest and disease resistant varieties that add value and enhance industry productivity. Visit our VARIETY IMPROVEMENT webpage for more information.


Importance of approved seedcane (isiZulu)

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