Wheat rust diseases are economically the most important diseases of wheat occurring almost in all wheat growing regions. These fungal pathogens frequently evolve and produce new races which can attack the wheat varieties that may have been resistant previously. The race Ug99 of the stem rust, originated in Uganda, is such a strain that has been causing serious concerns because of its aggressiveness on majority of world`s wheat varieties. This race has established in 11 countries around East Africa reaching as far as Iran. As happened with yellow rust strains previously, it is feared that, if it spreads further the wheat crops in Near East and West, Central and South Asia constituting more than one third of world wheat sowings, may be affected. This would certainly further exacerbate the already existing challenges caused by yellow rust in the region, threatening the wheat production seriously.
Strong capacities are needed for effective surveillance, developing resistant cultivars and integrated management
Sustainable measures need to be developed and put in place for effective management of wheat rust diseases. These measures include most importantly continuous monitoring, development of resistant cultivars and integrated management practices. In this process, rapid surveillance and early identification of new races play a critical role for timely responses.
For an effective surveillance widely participated networks and appropriate tools and capacities are essential. Likewise, analysis of races requires complex testing procedures on live wheat plants and this can only be possible with adequate technical and infrastructure capacities including well functioning greenhouse facilities.
FAO, as a member of the Borlaug Global Rust Initiative (BGRI), has been collaborating with international organizations such as IFAD, ICARDA, CIMMYT and other international centers of excellence in context of its Wheat Rust Global Programme to contribute to strengthening of national capacities in the field of management of wheat rust diseases.
International cooperation helps countries to manage wheat rusts
The programme covers 29 vulnerable countries in Africa, Near East and Asia and includes support for surveillance, coordination and contingency planning, cultivar registration processes, seed production, training and capacity improvement. Due to its location being at the geographic crossroads between Near East, Europe and Asia and capacity to serve the region, the programme also included support of wheat rust activities in Turkey most of which have been provided together with ICARDA and CIMMYT.
In this context, with a view to expand to other vulnerable countries, a number of pilot activities have been carried out including workshops on contingency planning and seeds, establishment of a pilot SMS surveillance system which facilitates real time monitoring of rusts in fields and upgrading of a wheat rust greenhouse facility for analysis of rust strains.
On first practical use of these facilities, an inaugural ceremony took place for the official opening of the greenhouse at the Central Research Institute for Field Crops in Ankara, which hosts the central rust laboratory of the country. The ceremony brought together the international organizations which contributed to establishment of the facility on 27th August 2013.
This initiative has been a model cooperation among the national and international organizations to contribute to national and regional management of wheat rust diseases. With this effort, joining of resources and expertise of the General Directorate of Agricultural Research of Turkey (GDAR), FAO, BGRI and IFAD facilitated establishment of the greenhouse which facilitates conduct of wheat rust race analysis year around including the summer months for the first time in the country.
It is believed that this capacity would facilitate monitoring and detection of wheat rust races more effectively, helping to protect wheat crops from the risks of new rust strains. It is expected that this strengthened national capacity would also contribute to serving the surrounding regions for rust race analysis through collaboration with ICARDA and CIMMYT, following the agreement of Turkey to accept rust samples from other countries in the region.
Further information: Fazil.Dusunceli@fao.org