NSP - FAO Wheat Rust Disease Global Programme

WHEAT RUSTS – Constant threat to wheat crops around the globe
Due to the formation of new virulent races and their wind-borne spread, wheat rust diseases threaten wheat production around the world particularly in Africa, Near East and Asia.


Yellow rust of wheat

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.  

Stem rust of wheat

Prevention is essential for effective integrated management
For effective integrated management of wheat rust diseases close monitoring, international collaboration and strengthening of national capacities are crucial. Although in certain cases fungicide application may be necessary, it may not be practical or economical in all countries especially in the developing world where wheat is a subsistence crop for small holder farmers. Thus preventive approaches are the most effective and environmentally friendly means of wheat rust management, use of resistant cultivars being the most effective tool. Thus, emphasis must be given to breeding resistant varieties and seed multiplication with the aim of making these seeds available to farmers as quickly as possible. However this process is slow in most cases and it should be improved through better coordination among the stakeholders and contingency planning.

To achieve sustained and improved productivity in wheat, increased investments are needed to support regional and international collaboration initiatives as well as capacity development efforts for effective implementation of integrated disease management practices at national level. Emphasis should be given to promotion of preventive approaches such as deployment of resistant cultivars, rapid seed multiplication systems, rapid surveillance approaches, institutional coordination and contingency planning for effective emergency response capability. Efforts should be intensified especially to strengthen national capacities in the regions which are at risk of wheat rust epidemics particularly in East and North Africa, Near East and Central and South Asia.

Wheat Rust Diseases Global Programme
FAO has been running a global programme on wheat rust diseases since 2008 to provide policy and technical support to the concerned countries, in the context of the Borlaug Global Rust Initiative (BGRI). Emphasis is placed on prevention, by promoting the development and planting of resistant cultivars, use of certified seeds, rapid seed multiplication, training of farmers, strengthening surveillance and emergency response capacities, promoting research – extension – farmer linkages and international cooperation.

FAO has developed its programme focusing on following components to plan its activities in response to the global wheat rust threat. It emphasizes regional and international cooperation and information sharing, tackling both the immediate needs of farmers and long-term needs of the agriculture sector:

  • Coordination and planning
    FAO ensures all national stakeholders are involved in prevention and preparedness
  • Surveillance and early warning
    FAO works with countries to improve capacities to undertake disease surveys and exchange information with the Global Rust Monitoring System
  • Variety Registration
    FAO supports national testing and quick release of new resistant varieties in directly affected countries
  • Seed Systems
    FAO establishes methods to ensure quick multiplication and distribution of resistant variety seeds in countries affected or at risk
  • Integrated disease management at field level
    FAO works closely with research and extension institutions and farmers to protect wheat crops and increase yields under local farming conditions
  • International and regional collaboration
    FAO contributes to and promotes international and regional cooperation in collaboration with the partners

Projects and activities of the programme are implemented through collaboration with national governments and their institutions, regional bodies, research and development institutions, the donor community and rural communities bringing together excellent complementarities.

The major international partners include the following:

  • BGRI (Borlaug Global Rust Initiative)
  • ICARDA (International center for Agricultural Research in Dry Areas)
  • CIMMYT (International Wheat and Maize  Improvement Center)
  • Cornell University (USA),
  • AARHUS University (Denmark)
  • IFAD (International Fund for Agricultural Development),

The programme has been developed with support of the following donors:

  • IFAD (International Fund for Agricultural Development),
  • BMGF (Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation)
  • USAID (United States Agency for International Development)
  • Cornell University (USA)
  • FAO – Italy Cooperative Programme,
  • FAO Spanish Trust Fund
  • NARS (in kind)

The support provided for the programme is highly acknowledged.

[email protected]

Web links of the partners

Core Themes