Pakistan wheat potentially facing Ug99 virus threat

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Lead 04-03_optParas Ali

SINCE PAKISTAN is vulnerable to multiple food security issues for the last several years and the authorities are still unable to come up with any effective mechanism, the Ug99 stem rust has recently emerged as a serious threat to wheat as it produces reddish brown flakes on this crops stalks ultimately reducing the per acre yield.

The Ug99 was first discovered in Uganda in 1999, and spread with the wind to Iran where it was discovered two years ago, and Pakistan and India are the next target of the virus.

Crop scientists fear that the Ug99 fungus could wipe out more than 80 per cent of worldwide wheat crops as it spreads from eastern Africa. They said that it is poised to enter the breadbasket of northern India and Pakistan, and the wind will inevitably carry it to Russia, China and even North America – if it doesn`t hitch a ride with people first.

Ug99 is a lineage of wheat stem rust (Puccinia graminis f. sp. tritici), which is currently present in wheat fields in several countries in Africa and the Middle East and is predicted to spread rapidly through these regions and possibly further afield, potentially causing a wheat production disaster that would affect food security worldwide.

“Its a time-bomb. It moves in the air, it can move in clothing on an airplane. We know its going to be here. Its a matter of how long its going to take.” Apprehension is that damage to wheat will cause widespread short-term price spikes on world wheat markets,” remarked Jim Peterson, a professor of wheat breeding and genetics at Oregon State University in Corvallis.

“Pakistan has developed wheat stem rust Ug99-resistant variety – known as NARC-2011 – which can prevent the country from potential wheat crisis,” revealed Chairman, Pakistan Agriculture and Research Council (PARC) Dr Iftikhar Ahmad, while recently briefing the National Assemblys Standing Committee on Food Security and Research.

This variety has the potential to resist the virus Ug99, he said adding, “It is only a matter of time before wind carries a deadly wheat stem pathogen into Pakistan, the ninth largest wheat-producing nation in the world,” he added.

According to him, the PARC has established the Ug99 resistance variety and will be provided to farmers at the time of sowing. For this year, he said, 72 tons Ug99 resistance wheat seed is available, which is being provided on demand. Every year, the seed is multiplying and soon the country will be able to fully protect against the Ug99 deadly disease, he claimed.

A spokesman of Ministry of National Food Security and Research, meanwhile has said that the current wheat crop is in good shape without having any major disease threat, race Ug99 is now widespread in wheat growing areas of Kenya and Ethiopia, causing significant losses to wheat crop.

While on the other hand, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Egypt, India, Kenya and Nepal are choosing from among the more than 20 rust-resistant varieties developed by ICARDA and CIMMYT. All eight nations are expected to pass the 5 per cent mark in the 2012-13 growing season.

In the wake of this potential threat to the wheat crop, farm experts suggest that the federal and provincial ministries of food and agriculture should enlighten local famers about the danger the wheat crop is facing from the deadly virus and also provide remedial measures at the earliest, enabling them to protect their crop from impending lethal viral attack.

They said that wheat is a major cash crop of the country and the agriculture scientists should not handle it lightly otherwise the food security issue, presently haunting the country, could grip the whole food crops.


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