FAO and partners ramp up efforts to track and prevent spread of damaging wheat rusts

The ongoing spread of wheat rusts, a group of fungal plant diseases that stymy the production of the staple grain and other crops, is raising concern in Central Asia and the Middle East and sparking closer international collaboration to study, detect and prevent the threat from advancing further, the U.N food agency said in a statement

As part of this effort, FAO is expanding its partnership with the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA) and the University of Aarhus’ Global Rust Reference Centre to provide training on surveillance, resistance and management.

Country surveys and sample analysis are also planned to better understand and manage the spread of this major menace to wheat production – which is posing a threat not just in Central Asia and the Middle East but in the world’s major wheat producing areas as well.

Wheat rust comes in three types — yellow, stem and leaf rusts — with yellow and stem rusts spreading widely in recent years. The rusts have the capacity to turn a healthy looking crop, only weeks away from harvest, into nothing more than a tangle of yellow leaves or black stems and shriveled grains at harvest, the FAO said in a statement.

The plant plague is highly mobile, spreading rapidly over large distances by wind, and can wreak havoc on crops if not tackled properly when first detected, it added.

“Under conducive conditions, up to 80 percent or more of a farmer’s yield can be lost due to rust infections, so building countries’ capacity to detect them and better understand the ways the various strains of the disease spread is crucial to preventing epidemics and limiting losses,” says Fazil Dusunceli, Plant Protection Officer at FAO.

The most well-known strain is Ug99, a highly potent form of stem rust first detected in Uganda in 1999 and which has since spread to 13 countries, some as far as Yemen and Iran. It has the potential to affect the majority of wheat varieties grown worldwide. Most recently it has been detected in Egypt, one of the Middle East’s most important wheat producers.

Also cause for concern is a new strain of yellow rust, called Warrior, which has made its way from northern Europe to Turkey, affecting various countries along the way.

 

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