Wheat strains resistant to rust damage should improve the quality of Kenyan wheat and also reduce the country’s dependence on imports, the Food and Agriculture Organization says.
Two disease-resistant varieties have been developed using mutation breeding to work against a fungus known as Ug99 that causes wheat stern rust. For over 30 years, the crop disease was under control but in 1999 it was rediscovered in Uganda and swiftly spread to neighboring Kenya. The disease is also prevalent in Iran, Yemen and South Africa.
“Wheat rust is a major problem of the wheat in Kenya,” said Fazil Dusunceli, agriculture officer at the crop production and protection division of the FAO.
“The registered varieties will help to sustain the wheat yields and production in the country as well as contributing to development of the seed sector,” he told BakeryandSnacks.com.
Kenya imports more than two-thirds of the wheat it needs, he said, and so this breakthrough would also help reduce import bills.
Paying a price?
The agriculture officer explained that theoretically, the seeds would cost more than regular farmed seeds. However, he said the new rust-resistant strains are no more expensive than other registered cultivars.
“Moreover, considering the benefits of these seeds such as cleanness, vigor, disease resistance and high yielding potential, their benefits would be substantially higher than the cost difference,” he said.
Asked if the higher cost of such seeds would impact wheat prices and ultimately food costs, Dusunceli said it would do the opposite. “Varieties are expected to contribute to improvement of wheat production which should help to stabilize wheat prices.”
Devastating yield losses if not controlled…
Wheat stem rust can destroy between 70-100% of a yield if not prevented and its spores are carried by the wind.
“Wheat rusts, particularly the Ug99 strain, are a major threat to food security because rust epidemics can result in devastating yield losses,” said FAO director-general Jose Graziano da Silva.
“This international project involving affected countries, plant scientists and breeders and international organizations is a major breakthrough,” he added.
Potential to broaden use?
If the efficacy and adaptation of the seed strains is proved, Duscunceli said there is potential to take the varieties to other countries experiencing wheat stem rust problems.