The U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) today launched a website to track a virulent strain of wheat stem rust disease, Ug99.
Fungal rust diseases have been blighting wheat crops worldwide. Now there are fears that the new resistant strain of Ug99, active in Africa could be heading towards South Asia.
According to FAO's international focal point for wheat rust disease, David Hodson there are fears of the new strain being transmitted across Africa by an unwitting human carrier as the wheat rust is transmitted not just by the wind but can also be carried on clothes or in plant matter.
“Ug99 is like the flu virus; it evolves continuously. The proliferation of the virus and the appearance of new strains resistant to pesticide had increased the danger it poses (to crops),” FAO's international focal point for wheat rust disease, David Hodson said.
The website ‘Rust Spore’ aims to deliver latest information on wheat stem rust, monitor its new strains and
provide easy access to global data on it. This will make it easier for farmers, scientists and policy makers to track the disease.
First discovered in Uganda in 1999, the original pathogen of Ug99 has been confirmed in Ethiopia, Kenya, Sudan and Iran. Variants of the disease have now been recorded in Kenya, Ethiopia, South Africa and Zimbabwe.
There are currently seven recognised variants of the strain to which 90 percent of global commercial wheat
varieties are vulnerable. Three rust diseases — stem (black), stripe (yellow) and leaf (brown) rust — are the most economically damaging diseases affecting wheat production.
The FAO fears losses worth millions of dollars this year because of yellow rust outbreaks in the Middle East,
Central Asia, Caucus and North Africa. Its website at present focusses on stem rust and Ug99, but will be expanded to incorporate other wheat rust threats in the near future.