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Growing threat of wheat rust epidemics worldwide

Up to 40% of farmers' wheat harvests have been destroyed recently in North Africa, the Middle East, Central Asia and the Caucasus (© Borlaug Global Rust Initiative)
Up to 40% of farmers' wheat harvests have been destroyed recently in North Africa, the Middle East, Central Asia and the Caucasus
© Borlaug Global Rust Initiative

Aggressive new strains of stem and stripe rust have destroyed up to 40 per cent of farmers' wheat fields in recent harvests in North Africa, the Middle East, Central Asia and the Caucasus, international scientists have reported. Rising temperatures and the increasing variability of rainfall is contributing to the spread and severity of rust diseases. "These epidemics increase the price of food and pose a real threat to rural livelihoods and regional food security," says Mahmoud Solh, director general of the International Center for Agricultural Research in Dry Areas (ICARDA).

The warning came during the International Wheat Stripe Rust Symposium in April where more than 100 scientists and policymakers met to discuss ways to tackle wheat rusts. "To combat the problem, farmers in these regions need to adopt new varieties of wheat that have durable resistance to both stem and stripe rust," explains Ronnie Coffman, vice-chair of the Borlaug Global Rust Initiative. New varieties are in the pipeline, but country preparedness is also affected by the availability of resistant varieties that are known and accepted by farmers, the ability of national programmes to rapidly multiply seeds and deliver them to market, and the accessibility and affordability of effective fungicides.

"There is need for enhancing in-country capacity of breeding, seed, multiplication and extension systems to continuously ensure that new, highly productive and genetically diverse resistant varieties are available and accepted by farmers to meet the challenges of changing rust virulence," explains Wafa El Khoury, coordinator of the Wheat Rust Disease Global Program at the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization. "Coordination and timely information sharing among all the stakeholders - from surveillance and plant protection officers, to wheat breeders, seed system and extension agents, and farmers - is key."

Date published: April 2011

 

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