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Fungal disease poses threat to global wheat crop
A new strain of a wheat fungal disease that has emerged in East Africa may spread if steps are not taken to develop resistant wheat, researchers said on Thursday.
As much as 10% of the world's wheat crops, with an estimated value of $9-billion, could fail if the disease is not tackled, said Masa Iwanaga, the director general of
the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre, based in Mexico.
A team of experts drawn from the centre, the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute and other organisations wrote a report on the disease that was made public on Thursday.
Iwanaga told journalists that it would cost about $3-million a year to develop wheat varieties resistant to this relatively new variant of a fungal disease called stem rust that eats away wheat from the stem up.
Miriam Kinyua of the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute said that the strain first confirmed in Uganda in 1999 attacks wheat as it sprouts from the ground and throughout its life span, whereas the other variants of stem rust only attack it when it is flowering.
Kinyua said that this means farmers have to apply fungicide at least three times during a wheat plant's lifetime, rather than the usual one-time spraying, adding to the costs of production.
She said that in Kenya all wheat farms have been affected as well all those in Uganda and Ethiopia. Kenyan small scale farmers, who produce 20% of the country's wheat, have lost as much as 50% of their wheat because of the disease, Kinyua said.
Ravi Singh of the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre said the strain was spread by wind from Uganda to Ethiopia and Kenya.
The new variant could spread to Egypt and Jordan because of the wind patterns between those countries and East Africa, and from there it can easily spread to the rest of the Middle East and Asia, Singh said.
"If you will ask me when exactly, it will be hard to say because this depends on the natural phenomenon .... It may happen this December or it may take a couple of years," Singh said.
Singh said that spores of the fungus can be carried as far as 3 000km.
Nobel Peace laureate Norman Borlaug said that the last global stem rust epidemic the world saw was in the 1950s and it was tackled by scientists from all over the world sharing information and collaborating on developing wheat varieties resistant to the disease.
Originally posted by Toxic Fox
This is all because of global warming, right? (I hope I can get someone to answer this with a straight face!)