Wheat Rust Research
Posted on April 27, 2008 Comments (0)
By increasing the production of wheat it is said Norman Borlaug has saved more lives than anyone else who ever lived, for which he was awarded the 1970 Nobel Peace Prize. See his New York Times opinion piece: Stem Rust Never Sleeps
In the last decade, global wheat production has not kept pace with rising population, or the increasing per capita demand for wheat products in newly industrializing countries. At the same time, international support for wheat research has declined significantly. And as a consequence, in 2007-08, world wheat stocks (as a percentage of demand) dropped to their lowest level since 1947-48. And prices have steadily climbed to the highest level in 25 years.
The new strains of stem rust, called Ug99 because they were discovered in Uganda in 1999, are much more dangerous than those that, 50 years ago, destroyed as much as 20 percent of the American wheat crop. Today’s lush, high-yielding wheat fields on vast irrigated tracts are ideal environments for the fungus to multiply, so the potential for crop loss is greater than ever.
If publicly financed international researchers move together aggressively and systematically, high-yielding replacement wheat varieties can be developed and made available to farmers before stem rust disease becomes a global epidemic.
The Bush administration was initially quick to grasp Ug99’s threat to American wheat production. In 2005, Mike Johanns, then secretary of agriculture, instructed the federal agriculture research service to take the lead in developing an international strategy to deal with stem rust. In 2006, the Agency for International Development mobilized emergency financing to help African and Asian countries accelerate needed wheat research.
But more recently, the administration has begun reversing direction. The State Department is recommending ending American support for the international agricultural research centers that helped start the Green Revolution, including all money for wheat research. And significant financial cuts have been proposed for important research centers, including the Department of Agriculture’s essential rust research laboratory in St. Paul.
This shocking short-sightedness goes against the interests not only of American wheat farmers and consumers but of all humanity. It is tantamount to the United States abandoning its pledge to help halve world hunger by 2015.