Ugly mutant virus threatens SA wheat
BDlive.co.za - Aug 23rd 2012, 09:56
With drought in the US, Europe and Africa threatening to send maize prices soaring, another threat to food prices has reached SA — Ug99, a variant of stem rust that could reduce wheat production levels.
Nedbank’s African Agriculture Review Report 2012 warned yesterday the virus had taken a firm hold in East Africa and had reached SA. It could push up bread prices if left unchecked.
The virus was widespread in Uganda and had been carried by the wind into Yemen and Iran and was threatening Pakistan.
Cobus le Roux, GM at the Agriculture Research Council’s crops division, confirmed yesterday the strain imported from Uganda had been under constant surveillance for the past three years in a joint operation between the council and the University of the Free State.
The team was collaborating with international bodies such as the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation to monitor the potential effect of the strain on international wheat stocks.
"We will be conducting another survey in September to confirm whether it has spread beyond the southern and Western Cape wheat production parts of the country," Dr le Roux said.
"We can say with certainty that so far this year there has not been any wheat stem rust virus detected anywhere else in SA."
Jannie de Villiers, CE of Grain SA, said the farming community trusted the Agriculture Research Council’s vigilance and assurances that Ug99 was under control.
"Without underplaying the seriousness of the threat of this wheat virus, Grain SA is actually concerned that the real threat to wheat production could be triggered by the extremely high international prices of maize and soya beans that have been persistent and could last another 18 months," he said.
Mr de Villiers said farmers were "extremely" excited by the extraordinary prices, and many were seeking to cash in by planting more soya beans or maize.
The Nedbank report said that wheat stem rust was thought to have been wiped out generations ago through the development of virus-resistant wheat variants. But it had "mutated and as yet science is powerless", the bank warned.
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