Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, has announced a $26.8 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation for a partnership designed to combat a deadly wheat disease that poses a significant threat to global food security.
The Durable Rust Resistance in Wheat partnership will bring together fifteen institutions to combat the emergence of deadly new variants of stem rust that can spread quickly, reducing healthy wheat to broken, shriveled stems. The partners will work to develop improved rust-resistant wheat varieties to protect resource-poor farmers and consumers from catastrophic crop losses in vulnerable regions such as India, Pakistan, East Africa, China, the Middle East, and North Africa.
The Ethiopian Institute for Agricultural Research and the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute will be the key research sites for the project, working in collaboration with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, the Philippines-based International Rice Research Institute, and research organizations in the United States, Canada, China, Australia, and South Africa.
One of the most important primary staple food crops in the world, wheat represents some 30 percent of the world's production of grain crops. In the past year, global wheat stocks have plummeted while the price for wheat has quadrupled. A virulent new wheat stem rust type identified in Uganda has expanded outside Africa and is spreading across the Middle East. Scientists estimate that 90 percent of all wheat varieties planted around the globe are susceptible to this strain.
"Farmers need access to wheat varieties that can resist the new type of wheat stem rust, especially in developing nations where reliance on wheat is high and budgets for fungicides almost nonexistent," said Ronnie Coffman, Cornell professor and director of the partnership. "Our goals are to coordinate an international effort to combat the threat of emerging wheat rust diseases, develop improved wheat varieties that protect resource-poor farmers in vulnerable regions, foster global awareness of [stem rust strain] Ug99, and track the spread of the wheat rust pathogens."