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UN-supported meeting wraps up with call for action to fight wheat-killing fungus

UN-supported meeting wraps up with call for action to fight wheat-killing fungus

Ug99 causes heavy damage to wheat crops and is a major threat to food security
A United Nations-backed conference of major wheat producing countries has concluded with a call for urgent international action prevent and control a dangerous fungus that can cause heavy damage to wheat crops and threatens food security.

Countries agreed in a declaration at the end of the 6-8 November gathering in New Delhi, India, on a roadmap to battle the wheat stem rust disease strain Ug99.

The virulent virus was discovered in Uganda in 1999 and has spread from East Africa to Yemen, Sudan and Iran. To date, there is no evidence that it has moved to other countries, with a recent field survey finding that it is not present in India, Pakistan, Egypt and China.

It is estimated that up to 80 per cent of all wheat varieties in Asia and Africa are susceptible to the strain, with spores of wheat rust carried by wind over long distances and across continents.

More than 130 participants from agricultural ministries’ of 31 nations, as well as researchers, seed producers and plant production experts attended the meeting, organized by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), Indian Government and other partners.

They stressed the importance of stepping up plant breeding research and global collaboration to develop Ug99-resistant varieties of wheat to be distributed to needy farming communities.

“We will continue supporting countries in building national capacities for research, extension, plant protection and seed production and get the support of the international community for achieving our common goals in responding to the wheat rust global threat and improving livelihoods through enhanced food security,” said Modibo Traore, FAO Assistant-General in the Agricultural and Consumer Protection Department.

The agency’s Wheat Rust Disease Global Programme supports almost 30 countries in East and North Africa, the Near East and Central and South Asia which are either affected or are at risk of the disease and together account for over one-third of global wheat production.

In a related development, the former Director of FAO’s Liaison Office in New York has been appointed Deputy Prime Minister of Swaziland.

Themba N. Masuku, who has also served as the South African nation’s finance minister, worked with FAO for over a decade.

“He made thoughtful and informed contributions to the ongoing fight to reduce world hunger and increase investment in agriculture,” said Jacques Diouf, the agency’s Director-General, adding that he looks forward to continuing to work with his former colleague in his new capacity.