This is the VOA Special English Agriculture Report.
in Afghanistan already struggle with the effects of drought and years of conflict.
Now there is worry about a new threat headed in their direction in the wind --
a fungus that destroys wheat crops. The disease is a form of stem rust named
for its discovery in Uganda ten years ago. Ug99 is now in one
of Afghanistan's neighbors, Iran.
The disease kills wheat plants by robbing them of water
and nutrients. Stem rust produces reddish-brown spots on the stems of infected
plants. The weakened stems break easily. The world's last major outbreak of
stem rust took place in the nineteen fifties.
Agriculture -- excluding opium production -- represents
about one-third of the Afghan economy. But agriculture employs eighty percent
of the country's workers. And almost all Afghan farmers grow wheat to feed
their families or to sell. Afghanistan has a population estimated at almost
thirty-four million people.
Mahmoud Solh directs the
International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas, or ICARDA, in
Aleppo, Syria. He says it took a few years for Ug99 to show its destructive
power. Then, in Kenya, it destroyed anywhere from twenty to eighty percent of
And before long, he says, winds carried
the disease from Kenya to Ethiopia. Ug99 has also affected Sudan and more
recently has moved into Asia, spreading to Yemen and Iran.
Mahmoud Solh says the disease now
threatens Afghanistan and South Asia. But he also calls it a global threat to
food security. Most of the commercial varieties of wheat are at risk from Ug99,
he says. These include varieties grown in the United States, Canada and Europe.
The expert urges Afghan farmers to tell
agriculture officials immediately if they suspect stem rust in their fields. He
says the fields will be treated to kill the fungus and to stop it from
spreading. Farmers will get new seeds that resist Ug99.
Researchers have developed these seeds for
the conditions in Afghanistan. Organizations of village farmers are working to
expand the supplies of the improved seeds. They are receiving guidance from
ICARDA and money from international groups.
The goal is to replace at least ten percent of Afghanistan's wheat fields with the
new seeds each year. The effort will begin with areas along the border with
that's the VOA Special English Agriculture Report, written by Jerilyn Watson
with Steve Baragona. I'm Faith Lapidus.