Tackling wheat stripe rust
Driven by the shift toward higher temperatures and increasingly variable and intense rainfall for short durations, wheat stripe rust is flourishing in new areas of the world. Aggressive new strains have decimated wheat crops, notably in 2010 when an epidemic destroyed some 400,000 hectares in Ethiopia and caused losses of up to 80 percent in some parts of the Middle East and North Africa.
In 2013, the disease struck again, seriously affecting wheat harvests from Central and West Asia to North and East Africa. In response to the threats that stripe rust now poses to global wheat production, more than 200 participants from 44 countries met in Izmir, Turkey, April 28-May 1, to discuss research innovations, global strategies and action on the ground at the 2nd International Wheat Stripe Rust Symposium. They represented leading international agricultural research centers, national research institutions, and policy organizations in rust-affected countries.
“Wheat Stripe Rust affects the livelihoods of millions of poor wheat farmers every year. In addition to the serious implications for global food security, the disease is capable of causing crop losses that amount to hundreds of millions of dollars,” said Dr. Mahmoud Solh, ICARDA’s Director General. “A joint partnership of scientists and countries is needed to stay ahead of climate change and avert future food crises. While the knowledge is there, more global investment is needed to develop durable stripe rust resistance and prepare farmers in developing countries who will be worse hit by wheat stripe rust.”
In her opening remarks for the 2014 symposium, Mrs. Jeanie Borlaug, who was wrapping up a 10-day tour of BGRI wheat projects in Turkey and Pakistan, acknowledged ICARDA for their efforts to relocate people and programs in the past three years. She acknowledged the historical role of Turkey in wheat cultivation, its proactive role in the contemporary rust research so critical to winter wheat areas of Central Asia, and ICARDA’s leadership in the fight against stripe rust.
Other Pertinent Stripe Rust Information from the Symposium
Recent reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change confirm the dire effect of climate change on crop yields. Management of crop disease is key to global food security in the future. Changes in climate patterns are giving rise to new and more virulent strains of crop diseases and pests, causing outbreaks in existing and new locations. Country reports from symposium participants verified these claims.
Producers now contend with two highly aggressive strains of stripe rust that have emerged in recent years and broken down a key resistance gene – Yr27 – which is used in the breeding of many now susceptible wheat varieties across Asia and Africa. Wheat varieties containing Yr27 are currently planted on more than 15-20 million hectares across Central and West Asia and North and East Africa.
The potential for future stripe rust risks to food security is especially real in low-income countries where farmers have limited access to resistant seeds and fungicides. Limited funding and ineffective surveillance and coordination among countries and regions create scenarios that could spell disaster for farming communities and wheat-producers worldwide.
Stem Rust Systems Being Used for Stripe Rust Monitoring and Surveillance
Good news on the monitoring and surveillance front, though, is that many of the same global monitoring systems that have been put in place for Ug99 and other variants of stem rust through the Durable Rust Resistance in Wheat Project (DRRW) and Borlaug Global Rust Initiative (BGRI) are being used to track yellow rust. This was extensively reported in Robert Park’s Session on the “Global Status of Wheat Stripe Rust Pathology Research,” by CIMMYT’s David Hodson, director of “Rust Tracker,” who is based in Ethiopia, and Jens Hansen, from Aarhus University, who talked about the Wheat Rust Toolbox and the Global Rust Reference Center.
A core issue for planners and policy makers is that wheat rusts — like all plant diseases — “do not respect political borders,” as Bob McIntosh likes to say.
“ICARDA’s global coordination role on stripe rust issues is key to monitoring and controlling this devastating disease,” said Ronnie Coffman, vice-chair of the BGRI. “We must develop more varieties with durable resistance for stripe rust, stem rust and leaf rust, and farmers must adopt them.”
Coffman said the government of Turkey has made key investments in wheat research by supporting new rust screening facilities in Ankara and Izmir. “It will take the global cooperation of scientists at ICARDA, CIMMYT, the BGRI, FAO and national agricultural research centers throughout Africa and Central Asia to minimize wheat rust threats for smallholder farmers."
During the symposium, scientists reviewed the latest science, practices, and policy options to improve the management of wheat stripe rust globally; discussed improved surveillance and information exchanges; enhancing preparedness so countries can rapidly deliver appropriate seeds and fungicides; building the capacity and skills of officials, extension services and farmers; and strengthening crop research to sustain the development of new rust-resistant varieties.
New Regional Cereal Rust Research Center
At the field day on April 30 held at the Aegean Agricultural Research Institute, participants visited the Regional Cereal Rust Research Center (RCRRC) and National Gene Bank. The symposium coincided with the planned upgrade of the RCRRC’s Rust Screening Facilities, established in Izmir in 2012 with partial funding from the DRRW.
Under the leadership of Dr. Kumarse Nazari, ICARDA rust pathologist, the RCRRC is an important platform for regional cooperation on rust monitoring systems and will strengthen the capacity of national agricultural research systems in Central and South Asia in rust disease surveillance and in breeding wheat for durable stripe rust resistance.
“Well-positioned and centered within the ‘wheat belt’ countries that stretch across North Africa and Central and West Asia, the center will help sustain production in a region that contributes 25 percent of global wheat yields, collaborating with the Global Rust Reference Center, at Aarhus University in Denmark,” said Nazari.
At the field day, participants were also able to see germplasm collections being screened for stripe rust resistance as well as breeder seed demonstration plots, planting equipment, and other research aspects of the Aegean Research Institute.
“It is so amazing to see in the field a lot of the stripe rust susceptible and resistant wheat I have only read about in papers,” said Yukiko Naruoko, a BGRI 2012 Women in Triticum award winner, currently a postdoc at Washington State University, who was attending the symposium with Mike Pumphrey and Aaron Carter.
The symposium was organized by the Turkish Ministry of Food, Agriculture, and Livestock (Gıda, Tarım ve Hayvancılık Bakanlığı) and the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA), with support from the Borlaug Global Rust Initiative (BGRI), the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), the CGIAR Research Program on Wheat, and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).
This blog, written by BGRI’s Linda McCandless and ICARDA’s Michael Devlin, originally appeared on the website of the Borlaug Global Rust Initiative.