Tuesday, 8 April 2008

Killer fungus

rust on wheat stem

Photo from IRIN.

Recently a disease that affects wheat, caused by a fungus called Ug99 because it was first discovered in Uganda in 1999, has been detected in Iran. It spread from Uganda to Kenya and Ethiopia and in 2007 was found in Yemen. It is liable to spread still further.

This wheat stem rust results considerable reduction in the yield of crops, so giving yet another boost to the already high prices of food in many areas. It can mutate very rapidly and has been able to overcome the resistance bred into existing strains of wheat.

The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) warned in early March that the major wheat-producing countries to the east of Iran should be on high alert. Other areas likely to be affected include the Mediterranean region, north Africa, southern Europe, eastern Europe and Russia. Agricultural scientists have warned that this disease could be a serious threat to world food security because 90% of all wheat varieties could be susceptible.

Stocks of wheat have fallen recently because of extreme weather in 2007 in areas of major production. In addition, land which used to be used for wheat has been given over to biofuel crops. But not only have the stock levels fallen, rising oil prices have added to the upward pressure so prices have risen very sharply.

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has given US$26.8 million to Cornell University in the USA for a new global project to fight the disease.


  1. Why don't we just grow a different crop? Putting all of one's eggs in one basket is rarely a good idea.

  2. Interesting. You are interested in so many things! Thinking of you today. Want more Amsterdam pics too. :)

  3. Oj, that sounds really scary!!! I hope something against it soon...

    YEP, I'm slowly back to blogging again after our long journey (well over 4620 km!).

    CU L8er

  4. @Grateful guy, if you think of all the bread and pasta that is eaten throughout the world, we still need a huge amount of wheat. Apparently, according to IRIN, "On average, each person in the world consumes 68.2 kilograms of wheat each year - about 630 calories per person per day, or between a third and a half of the minimal energy requirements of most adults." Finding a palatable alternative is not so easy.

    @Relax Max, you have hit the nail on the head - I am interested in too many different things! I'll look out Amsterdam for you :)

    @Lifecruiser, I'll be right over :)

  5. I had noticed a huge increase in wheat prices lately, due I suspect, to petroleum costs, but now we have something else to look forward to? Yikes.

  6. I looked at this same post of yours yesterday and thought that I had seen that same stuff on a plant here last year. But it couldn't have been. I could certainly be wrong no doubt there are other things that look alike.


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