‘The spread of wind-blown disease will depend on west-east air flow pattern’

India does not face any immediate threat from the Ug99 wheat rust disease that hits the stem of a wheat plant. Nevertheless it has to be prepared. With wheat production steadily on the rise, the country is poised to enhance its output to a record level of 100 million tonnes in 2015, leading world scientist Ronnie Coffman from Cornell University said on Friday.

India is the second largest wheat producer and consumer in the world. In 2012-13, the country produced 92.46 million tonnes of wheat. This is 13.2 per cent of the world’s production.

Addressing a press conference to announce a global technical workshop on wheat here, Professor Coffman disclosed that India had three varieties — Super 152, Super 172 and Baj — that were resistant to stem rust. Besides, 37 more varieties were in the pipeline.

These preparations were under way to thwart any threat from the Ug99 wheat —a devastating strain of black wheat stem rust disease — that reached the borders of Iran in 2009. So far the Indian sub-continent had been safe. If the disease were to hit Afghanistan, Pakistan and India, it would hurt wheat availability around the globe. The spread of the wind-blown disease would depend on the west-east air flow pattern, Professor Coffman said.

The silver lining was that India was one of the biggest sources of providing plant material for developing rust resistant varieties for the world, Project Director at Directorate of Wheat Research Indu Sharma said. “In India, wheat crop suffers from yellow rust fungal disease which is kept under control by surveillance and fungicide sprays with full participation of farmers,” she added.

One of the methods to control the disease is to replace the susceptible varieties with resistant ones.

After the disease hit wheat crop in North America and travelled to Canada in 1953, huge tracts of wheat were replaced with corn. In 1999, a new race of the causative agent of stem rust, the Ug99, was detected in Uganda followed by Kenya in 2003 and Yemen in 2007. The virulent race, if not contained, may migrate to the Middle-East and Central Asia, it is feared.

Next week, during the 50 anniversary of Norman E. Borlaug’s introduction of high-yielding wheat in India, President Pranab Mukherjee will inaugurate a global technical workshop on progress and challenging in protecting world’s wheat supply. It will be jointly organised by the Borlaug Global Rust Initiative (BGRI) and the Indian Council of Agriculture Research.