India unaffected, but prepared to tackle wheat rust disease: Pawar

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New Delhi, Nov 6 (UNI) India is free from the threat of dreaded wheat stem rust Ug99, even as the government has fully geared up agricultural research system to tackle the disease in future, said Agriculture and Food Minister Sharad Pawar here today.

Inaugurating the ''International Conference on Wheat Stem Rust Ug99- A Threat to Food Security'' here, Mr Pawar said Indian scientists had screened 442 wheat materials against the disease and many domestic varieties and found them having a resistance to Ug99.

The conference is being attended by about 150 scientists and representatives from international organisations and watchdog bodies in this area.

In the current year, out of the 318 Indian wheat materials tested so far, 78 have been found resistant to the disease. The seeds of resistant varieties already released are being multiplied.

In 2007-08, about 450 tonne breeder seed of 11 such varieties has been produced for further multiplication this year, he added.

The Minister also informed that the SAARC countries have started regional cooperation to conduct joint research, survey, training, technology improvement, and spread and adoption of new technology to ward off the threat perceived from Ug99.

While complimenting ICAR an international organisations for working in close coordination to check the spread of the disease, Mr Pawar emphasised the need for enhancing international cooperative research to identify the most appropriate and effective strategy to tackle the Ug99 menace.

The gathering was also addressed by the Agriculture Ministers of Afghanistan and Bangladesh, and ICAR Director General Mangala Rai.

Stem rust of wheat has been the most destructive disease of wheat and barley, and has inflicted very heavy losses worldwide, sometimes to the tune of more than 40 per cent.

The organism is a fungus called Puccinia graminis tritici. One unusually potent race of this fungus was detected in Uganda in 1999 (that is why named as Ug99). Subsequently, it quickly spread to the neighbouring countries (Kenya and Ethiopia) and crossed the Red Sea.

There are reports of its occurrence in Iran at a relatively faster pace than what was expected. Not only did it spread quickly, it also generated newer variants able to break the resistance of the varieties grown in the region. This quick spread and ability to generate variant forms brought the wheat community on high alert, prompting Nobel laureate Dr Norman Borlaug to declare it as a global threat.

In India, the occurrence of this rust had been a regular feature before introduction of semi-dwarf varieties. Despite having not faced any epidemic since last four decades, the strategy of conducting regular countrywide survey and surveillance continued to be in place to monitor the occurrence of all wheat diseases in different regions of the country.

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