UN: Wheat fungus spreads from East Africa to Yemen, threatening crops

Daily Star Egypt Staff
2 Min Read

Egypt is the potential next stop for the highly destructive strain

ROME: A virulent new strain of a fungus capable of destroying entire wheat fields has spread from East Africa to Yemen, a UN agency warned Thursday.

The Rome-based Food and Agriculture Organization said an estimated 80 percent of all wheat varieties planted in Asia and Africa were susceptible to wheat stem rust. The spores of the fungus are carried mostly by wind over long distances and across continents, the agency said in a statement.

Global wheat yields could be at risk if the stem rust spreads to major wheat-producing countries, FAO s Director-general Jacques Diouf said.

The fungus can spread rapidly and has the potential to cause global crop epidemics and wheat harvest losses of several billion dollars. This could lead to increased wheat prices and local or regional food shortages.

The pathogen, called Ug99, first emerged in Uganda in 1999 and spread to Kenya and Ethiopia, FAO said. This is the first time it has affected wheat fields in Yemen, hitting with a more virulent strain than the one found in East Africa, it said.

Wind currents could carry spores from Yemen to Egypt or toward countries in the Near East, and there is a high risk that the disease could also spread to Sudan, it said.

Samples were sent to the United States and Canada for tests, and the agency urged affected countries to increase monitoring of the disease.

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