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.