Yellow rust, a disease affecting wheat, remains a serious problem in Central and West Asia. 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.
The most recent epidemics occurred in 2009 and 2010. And parts of Central Asia, specifically Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, saw another outbreak of yellow rust in the spring of 2013. This continuous scourge of yellow rust has serious implications for food security in the region. So finding wheat that is both resistant to the pathogen and can bring in good harvests has been the focus of winter wheat improvement programs in Central and West Asia. Researchers agree that cultivation of resistant varieties is the most cost-effective and sustainable method to control yellow rust.
Timely monitoring in the fields and use of fungicides helped to contain the disease in Uzbekistan this year. But the same did not happen in Tajikistan. While use of fungicides increased the cost of crop management, its absence resulted in reductions of potential grain yields.
Many leading commercial cultivars such as 'Krasnodar-99' and 'Tanya' have been seriously attacked by yellow rust. But several newly released and candidate varieties have shown high levels of resistance to the fungus. For instance, varieties like 'Buniyodkor', 'Gozgon' and 'Yaksart' in Uzbekistan and 'Chumon' and 'Ormon' in Tajikistan fared well against the disease. Most of them had been selected from international winter wheat nurseries. This underscores the importance and effectiveness of collaboration among national wheat programs in Central Asia and the international centers like the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA) and the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), as well as the International Winter Wheat Improvement Program, which is a joint initiative of the Ministry of Agriculture of Turkey, CIMMYT and ICARDA.
While identifying yellow-rust-resistant winter wheat varieties is the first step in the successful combat against the disease, their cultivation by wheat farmers remains the ultimate goal. Together with national wheat improvement programs in Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, ICARDA and CIMMYT have joined forces to accelerate seed multiplication of a number of yellow-rust-resistant varieties through a pilot project funded by CRP WHEAT, a research program of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research. Under this initiative, seed multiplication is now in progress of yellow-rust-resistant wheat varieties such as 'Gozgon', 'Yaksart', 'Buniyodkor' and 'Hazrati Bashir' in Uzbekistan, and 'Ormon', 'Alex' and 'Chumon' in Tajikistan.