Joining forces against stripe rust, global threat to wheat production

Date: 25.05.2014.

Many commercial wheat lines were seriously attacked by stripe rust during an outbreak in Tajikistan in the spring of 2013. Photo by Ram Sharma.

Stripe rust, also known as yellow rust, a serious wheat disease, is a scourge on wheat production in North and East Africa, as well as Central and West Asia. In 2010 a global epidemic destroyed some 400,000 hectares in Ethiopia, and caused losses of up to 80 per cent in some parts of West Asia and North Africa. The pathogen has been the most severe constraint to winter wheat production in Central and West Asia over the past 12 years. Central Asia has seen five outbreaks since 1999. The most recent epidemics struck in 2009 and 2010. And Tajikistan and Uzbekistan saw another outbreak in the spring of 2013. But changing weather patterns and ineffective monitoring add to the problem.

To deal with this challenge, researchers continue to work on developing more resistant varieties. And some have already shown their merits. For example, varieties like 'Buniyodkor', 'Gozgon' and 'Yaksart' in Uzbekistan and 'Chumon' and 'Ormon' in Tajikistan fared very well during the outbreak in 2013. They also yield more than local wheat lines, up to 10 tons/ha. Most of them come from international winter wheat nurseries. And this underscores the importance and effectiveness of collaboration between national wheat programs and international research institutions.

The International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA) and national partners also work together to improve the knowledge and skills of young scientists through collaborative research and training. There is a continued capacity-building drive, and training and knowledge-sharing events are held regularly. For example, ICARDA and the Uzbek Scientific Production Center for Agriculture organized recently a wheat travelling seminar in Uzbekistan to evaluate joint winter wheat research activities. More than 20 young researchers joined the seminar between 23 and 25 May 2014 to observe and assess wheat trials in experimental fields in Karshi, Gallaral and Kibray.

But more commitment from national governments is needed to make research results benefit larger numbers of population, and particularly to supply farmers with the proper seeds that they demand. All this calls for improved coordination between countries, as well as dialogue between researchers and national governments. ICARDA and a partnership of research institutions and policymakers continue joint efforts to address the problem and support countries in fighting future stripe rust epidemics. Through a research-policy platform like the International Wheat Stripe Rust Symposium, which is in its second year, they aim to promote research and cooperation on stripe rust monitoring. Organized by the Turkish Ministry of Food, Agriculture, and Livestock, ICARDA, the Borlaug Global Rust Initiative, the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), and the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the 2nd Symposium was held in Izmir, Turkey, from 28 April to 1 May 2014. The event brought together leading stripe rust researchers to interact with decision-makers from rust-affected countries and assess the current state of research and regional cooperation on monitoring of the disease. As a platform for sustained international collaboration on stripe rust, the meeting updated participants on the latest research innovations: rust monitoring, population dynamics, conventional and molecular approaches to breeding for durable stripe rust resistance, genetics of resistance to stripe rust, and seed delivery systems. The event was hosted by the Regional Cereal Rust Research Center at the Aegean Agricultural Research Institute (AARI) in Izmir, Turkey. The Center was established in 2012 as a collaboration between the Turkish Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Livestock and ICARDA in response to the urgent need for regional cooperation on stripe rust monitoring and capacity building in crop breeding for stripe rust resistance. The center hosts a monitoring and mitigation system for the 'wheat belt' countries - particularly in Central and West Asia and North Africa, which produce more than 25 per cent of the world's wheat.

The Symposium is, however, one component in a series of efforts targeting improved stripe rust management. And future success is more likely if there is shared commitment translated into action.

For more information on the Symposium please visit:

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