A global concern
Wheat rust diseases (yellow, leaf and stem rust) are the most important diseases of wheat occurring in almost all wheat growing countries. Wheat rusts, like other pathogens, over time can evolve into new strains that are more virulent and damaging to wheat crops. Ug99 is one such strain of stem rust, which emerged in Uganda in 1999. It has since spread beyond East Africa as far as Iran. The major concern is that majority of the wheat varieties across East Africa, West and South Asia is susceptible to this virulent strain or its derivatives. Similarly the Yr 27 virulent strain of yellow rust has caused significant losses in some countries in North Africa, Near East and Central and South Asia during the serious epidemics in 2009, 2010 and 2013 indicating that there is no room for complacency and continuous fight is necessary.
World’s wheat basket threatened
The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimates that 31 countries in East and North Africa, the Near East, Central and South Asia, accounting for more than 37 percent of global wheat production area and 30% of production, are at risk of wheat rust diseases including the Ug99 race of stem rust and Yr27 strain of yellow rust.
Rust diseases are also among the major concerns in more developed wheat producing countries but thanks to improved technology, capacity and awareness, implementation of management strategies is easier. However in many countries at risk of rust epidemics in North Africa, Near East and Central and South Asia wheat production is done by small holder farmers with limited capacities. Thus, technical and policy assistance for planning and implementation of effective rust management strategies is required.
Therefore continuous vigilance and preparedness are essential to combat wheat rust diseases at a time when in these regions food security and price stability concerns are high in the international agenda.