Africa Asia Middle East عربي Français Português free subscription IRIN Site Map RSS find PlusNews on facebook follow PlusNews on twitter
PlusNews
Global HIV/AIDS news and analysis
Advanced search
 Saturday 13 March 2010
 
Home 
Africa 
Blog 
Weekly reports 
In-Depth reports 
Country profiles 
Fact files 
Events 
Most read 
 
Print report Bookmark and Share
PAKISTAN: Wheat rust threat rising


Photo: Tariq Saeed/IRIN
A woman carries home sacks of wheat flour. Pakistanis consume 22 million tons of wheat every year
LAHORE, 7 March 2010 (IRIN) - Experts say it is only a matter of time before wind carries a deadly wheat stem pathogen into Pakistan, the ninth largest wheat producing nation in the world. Known as Ug99, the disease could potentially decimate the country’s highly vulnerable wheat crop and cause a huge food security problem.

“There is a real possibility that winds could move the pathogen directly into southern Pakistan from Yemen or even the Horn of Africa. Realistically, I believe it is only a matter of time before Ug99 or variants appear in Pakistan,” said David Hodson of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization’s (FAO) Wheat Rust Disease Global Programme.

According to FAO, Ug99 is a virulent race of wheat stem rust first identified in Uganda in 1998 and 1999 that leaves behind fields filled with shriveled wheat grains.

Over the past decade, FAO estimates that 29 countries in East and North Africa, the Near East, and Central and South Asia, accounting for 37 percent of global wheat production, have been affected by the wind-borne Ug99 or were at potential risk.

Major wheat rust epidemics have occurred in the past, namely in the 1950s in North America and in 1993-94 in Ethiopia, with devastating consequences. Wheat rust decimated the grain crop across Pakistan in 1977, forcing the government to import over 2 million tons of wheat.

An Ug99 outbreak could be even more disastrous, FAO warns.


Photo: Kamila Hyat/IRIN
Stem rust disease could decimate wheat, a staple food crop
On high alert

In 2008, FAO put Pakistan and five other wheat producing countries on high alert following the detection of Ug99 in Iran.

“At present this virulent race of stem rust does not seem to have established a strong presence in Iran. However, the concern is that in time this status in Iran could change and analysis of regional wind patterns indicates that the pathogen could move into Pakistan,” Hodson told IRIN.

Soon after the discovery of Ug99 in Iran, Mujeeb Qazi, programme director of Pakistan’s National Wheat Program, warned that along with 80 percent of all wheat varieties planted in Asia and Africa most of Pakistan’s major wheat strains tested in Kenya over the past few years did not have adequate resistance to the disease.

“The big cause for concern in Pakistan is the widespread cultivation of wheat varieties that are extremely susceptible to Ug99 or variants. Of major concern is the cultivation of single wheat varieties like ‘Inquilab-91’ on millions of hectares in Pakistan,” Hodson said.

He also said many of the wheat-growing areas in Pakistan, particularly in the south, had a combination of heat and moisture that the disease favoured.

In 2008, the government allocated Rs 40 million [US$645,000] for research to combat the threat of Ug99 and over the past two years, the Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Livestock has been working on developing resistant varieties.

Disastrous consequences

An outbreak of Ug99 would spell disaster in a country where most of the population is dependent on wheat to meet their basic food needs. According to official figures, 22 million tons of wheat is consumed in Pakistan every year, making it the fifth biggest wheat consumer in the world.

“Basically, we eat only roti [flat wheat flour bread] with pickles, day after day. This is all we can afford,” Muhammad Javed, a local labourer and father of six, told IRIN.

There are millions more like him in Pakistan, a country in which 35 percent of its 165 million citizens live below the poverty line, according to the World Bank.

“If wheat stem rust gets here, we would see famine,” Shahzad Chandio, a farmer in the southern Sindh province, told IRIN from the town of Jamshoro.

kh/at/ed


Theme(s): (PLUSNEWS) Early Warning, (PLUSNEWS) Environment, (PLUSNEWS) Food Security

[ENDS]

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]
Print report Bookmark and Share
Countries
FREE Subscriptions
Your e-mail address:


Submit your request
 More on Pakistan
08/Mar/2010
ASIA: IRIN-ASIA Weekly Round-up 270 for 28 February - 6 March 2010
02/Mar/2010
PAKISTAN: Swat women fear Taliban return
01/Mar/2010
PAKISTAN: A dangerous mixture in Balochistan
28/Feb/2010
PAKISTAN: Quake causes panic in northern town
28/Feb/2010
ASIA: IRIN-ASIA Weekly Round-up 269 for 21 - 27 February 2010
 More on Early Warning
08/Mar/2010
PHILIPPINES: Food security warnings over El Niño
04/Mar/2010
AFGHANISTAN: Seasonal floods warning
02/Mar/2010
LAOS: Thousands risk losing livelihoods in wetlands development
01/Mar/2010
PAKISTAN: A dangerous mixture in Balochistan
18/Feb/2010
BANGLADESH: Rohingya humanitarian crisis looms
 Most Read 
VIETNAM: Government leads region in climate change challenge
INDONESIA: Farming for alternative livelihoods
AFGHANISTAN: Driven into the arms of the Taliban
CAMBODIA: War crimes court juggles public demands
AFGHANISTAN: Talking to the Taliban
Back | Home page

Services:  Africa | Asia | Middle East | Film & TV | Photo | Radio | Live news map | E-mail subscription
Feedback · IRIN Terms & Conditions · Really Simple Syndication News Feeds · About PlusNews · Jobs · Donors

Copyright © IRIN 2010
This material comes to you via IRIN, the humanitarian news and analysis service of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. The opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the United Nations or its Member States. Republication is subject to terms and conditions as set out in the IRIN copyright page.