Press Release from ICARDA

In an urgent response to the endemic threat that wheat stripe (yellow) rust poses to global wheat production, ICARDA and a partnership of leading international agricultural research centers, national research institutions, and policy makers from rust-affected countries recently met in Izmir, Turkey (April 28-May 1), to review the most recent science innovations, mobilize a global strategy, and initiate action on the ground to combat future rust epidemics.
Wheat stripe rust is flourishing in new areas due to changing weather patterns. Aggressive new strains of stripe rust disease 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, the ‘bread baskets’ of the world. In Morocco, for instance, stripe rust was widespread and covered 40 percent of surveyed fields.

A science-policy dialogue between researchers and national governments is critical to build international collaboration and initiate national action plans capable of tackling the disease and averting major yield losses. The 2nd International Wheat Stripe Rust Symposium reviewed the latest science, practices, and policy options to improve the management of wheat stripe rust globally: improving surveillance and information exchange; 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.

Organized by the Turkish Ministry of Food, Agriculture, and Livestock and ICARDA, with support from the Borlaug Global Rust Initiative, the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center, the CGIAR Research Program on Wheat, and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, the event brought together some 200 participants from more than 35 countries.

The potential for future stripe rust risks to food security is real, especially in low-income countries where farmers have limited access to fungicides and the seeds of resistant cultivars. Limited funding and ineffective surveillance and coordination between countries and regions create a scenario that could spell disaster for farming communities and wheat-producers worldwide.

In response, scientists discussed issues that were critical to initiating a global strategy capable of more effectively controlling the disease, including surveillance, regional rust networking and information exchange, breeding for durable rust resistance, new technologies to enhance crop breeding, and seed delivery systems.

Speaking before the event, Prof. Masum Burak, Director General of the General Directorate of Agricultural Research and Policies, within Turkey’s Ministry for Food, Agriculture, and Livestock, commented on the significance of the Symposium and Turkey’s leadership on the issue of stripe rust research.

“In recent years, enhanced emphasis has been given to collaboration and coordination among research institutes involved in the fight against rust diseases. Strategic national and international research partnerships are strengthening resistance to the disease: establishing monitoring and surveillance systems, identifying resistant cultivars, and breeding rust-resistant varieties. Turkey is a key contributor to these efforts, hosting important international facilities such as the International Winter Wheat Improvement Programme and the Regional Cereal Rust Research Center.”

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