Egypt, the world’s top wheat importer, has begun planting new wheat varieties that are resistant to a mutant form of stem rust, Ug99, to help combat a fungus that has the ability to annihilate up to 80% of the world’s wheat crop if left unchecked.
Ayman Abouhadid, President of Egypt’s Agricultural Research Center, says that “40 tonnes are now being planted in the Nile Delta.”
It makes sense that Egypt would plant with such vigor. It not only cultivates around 3 million feddans (1.26 million hectares) of wheat per year, but also has one of the highest rates of wheat consumption per capita in the world at about 120 kg per person per year. That equates to around 14 million tonnes of wheat consumed annually, with around 6 million tonnes imported from abroad.
One reason for Egypt’s high consumption of wheat is that it is a very populous Arab country which depends heavily on subsidized bread to feed its poor.
Clearly, Egypt isn’t taking any chances. Abouhadid says Egypt has developed “two wheat varieties, Misr 1 and Misr 2, which are resistant to this new form of stem rust,” and that Egypt exported around 1.5 tonnes of the Misr 1 variety to Afghanistan to “protect the region from the spread of the fungus from outside our borders.”
Thus far, the new stem rust has travelled from Uganda–where it mutated from a pesky fungus to a potentially threatening plague on the crop’s survival–to Kenya, Ethiopia, South Sudan, Yemen, and even as far away as Iran and Afghanistan in less than a decade. Abouhadid says if the strain reaches Central Asia, it will most certainly reach Egypt.
“Since Egypt gets winds from the north, it is now very likely that it will spread to Egypt,” Abouhadid said. It’s only a matter of time.
Related Article: A Cereal Killer: Stem Rust Threatens World Wheat And Barley Supply