Yellow rust-resistant wheat to boost food security in Central Asia

Date: 20.01.2013.

New wheat lines can yield up to 10 tons per hectare. Photo by Sherzod Qosimov.

Yellow rust, a disease affecting wheat, remains a serious problem in Central and West Asia. Finding wheat that is both resistant to the pathogen and can bring in good harvests is a daunting task. It has been a focus of winter wheat improvement programs in Central and West Asia for the past several years. Studies show that yellow rust has been the most severe constraint to winter wheat production in the region over the last 12 years. Central Asia alone has seen five disease outbreaks since 1999. In a study on global incidence of wheat rusts over the past 40 years, Morgounov et al. (2012) report epidemic levels of yellow rust between 2001 and 2010 in Central and West Asia, leading to substantial losses throughout the region. Adding to the problem is the cost of fungicides widely used to control the disease. Previous research had attempted to solve the problem but couldn't successfully combine resistance with the required level of productivity in new varieties. Recent research, however, appears to have puzzled this out. In a paper in Euphytica, a group of scientists of the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA), the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), the International Winter Wheat Improvement Program (IWWIP) and national wheat research programs in Central and West Asia published the results of an extensive study that identified a number of wheat lines that are up to par. Not only do they do better against yellow rust, but also have yields higher than those of locally bred wheat. These wheat lines can yield up to 10 tons ha-1. Seed multiplication of a few such lines is currently under way on 126 ha in Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. There are plans to allocate 2,500 ha for seeds in 2014, and reach the 50,000-hectare mark in 2015. The new lines will help to remove the need for costly fungicides and increase profit margins. The study is proof of how important international cooperation is for agricultural research. In the final analysis, the research results are sure to contribute to food security and improved living standards in rural areas in the region.

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