Thursday, 13 December 2007

Developing Canna agriculture

In a bid to develop an alternative source of starch for the Thai food industry, a team of biochemical technology scientists embarked on a comprehensive study of canna. The study is a collaboration between a number of higher educational institutions and scientific agencies. Leading the study team are Associate Professor Dudsadee Uttapap, associate dean for academic affairs of the Bioresource and Technology School, King Mongkut Institute of Technology Thon Buri, and Professor Dr Yasuhito Takeda from Kagoshima University’s Faculty of Agriculture in Japan. The study has mainly been funded by the Thailand Research Fund, via the Royal Golden Jubilee PhD Programme, and the National Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology (Biotec).

Dudsadee says canna starch’s outstanding attributes are its high elasticity, high viscosity, high retrogradation, and clear paste. Hence, it has very high potential to be developed as a raw material for noodles or a thickening agent in the food industry. In Vietnam, canna noodles have become more and more popular. This is because the noodles exhibit very high tensile strength. They stay firm and lose minimal solidity during cooking. Dudsadee says her team intends to develop a comprehensive knowledge of canna, especially the breeds grown in Thailand, and the feasibility of developing the canna industry in this country.

It’ll take years to complete the whole study process, she says. In her opinion, Thailand’s starch industry has very high potential to accommodate canna starch production, given that most of the required equipment and infrastructure are already in place.

But before the industry could begin investing in canna starch, comprehensive knowledge about the plant, its yield and related products have to be fully developed, she says.

Genetic attributes of edible canna must be developed as well, says Dudsasdee, so that the starch’s production costs can be lowered. Genetic development could help increase canna productivity. More importantly, canna roots have a myriad of rootlets, making current starch-processing very time consuming and costly. This is because starch producers have to pay rather high wages for the processing, she says.

Dudsadee says her team has completed only about 40 per cent of the whole study process. She identifies two key obstacles, limited funding and equipment for the slow progress of the study. So far, they have completed their study on the physical attributes of canna starch for example, the structure of the starch molecules and its pasting properties. Now she plans to explore the relationships of canna’s growing periods and different attributes of the crops from different growing periods. Information about the relationships will enable relevant agencies to guide farmers on the length of appropriate growing periods that yield the most cost-effective productivity for canna, Dudsadee says.

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