COVID-19: Update from the BGRI Team

Ronnie Coffman
Saturday, March 21, 2020

Given the rapidly evolving uncertainty surrounding COVID-19, we are cancelling our planned technical workshop scheduled for June 1-4 at the John Innes Centre in Norwich, UK, along with all associated trainings prior to the workshop. In light of the pandemic and the uncertainties of its duration, we are re-envisioning a workshop for the fall, perhaps September. If you have already registered and paid for the BGRI workshop in June, you will receive a full refund back to your original method of payment. 

Though all of us here at BGRI will miss seeing you this June, our priority must be the health and safety of each and every member of this amazing community of hunger fighters.  

Our community first formed in response to the challenges posed by Ug99. Then, just as now, a destructive force brought fear and devastation globally. We came together then to breed new resilient wheat varieties and build a global pathogen surveillance network, forming a community where sharing of data and transparency of research formed a bulwark against multiple global challenges associated with rust pathogens. 

Our work as wheat scientists, as farmers, and as stewards of global food security continues to be vitally important. Wheat is a major staple. The world continues to plant it, cultivate it, harvest, process, and eat it. The challenges of protecting and improving it are enormous.

It is painfully clear that there is a high cost to short-term investments in science. Complacency and lack of preparation by governments and institutions puts all global citizens at risk. Our community is a perfect example of what is possible when scientists rally behind a goal and act as one.

We proved resilient then; we will do the same now. 

At BGRI headquarters, at Cornell University, in Ithaca, NY, the COVID-19 outbreak has led to major changes in daily life. Students have been sent home and public schools are closed. Some businesses are experiencing painful economic losses. Those of us comfortable with connecting online are settling in for the long haul of working from home and trying to protect those in our communities who are at higher risk. 

We imagine this is the new reality for many of you. We also know that many of you live in much higher density locations with even more serious outbreaks and severely overworked medical facilities. Our hearts and thoughts are with you. 

We continue planning for the future workshop in consultation with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, UK aid, and our various team leaders. As we do so, we are eager to hear from you about your own needs. Please fill out this short questionnaire about what a BGRI technical workshop could be. Your insights are incredibly valuable to us. Please respond by Friday, April 17, at 5 pm GMT.

As we move forward, we also encourage submissions to the BGRI Newsletter, as we intend to keep the monthly newsletter going to keep the BGRI community together in these uncertain times. “Rust never sleeps,” and does not respect international boundaries, as we all know. Apparently, the same is very true of COVID-19!

On a more personal level, because we cannot predict what might happen with this virus, we are all suffering from some form of anticipatory anxiety. Focus on the present, and consider what you can do to improve the situation. Look for the helpers; better yet, be one.

When I was (a lot) younger, I was trained as a pilot by an old, retired navy pilot who must have been as old as I am now. He gave me a piece of advice that I have always remembered, especially in difficult situations. “Ronnie,” he said, “If you ever have trouble with the airplane, you should ask yourself one question – are you still flying? If you are, every problem can be solved.”  

Clearly, we are still flying. Let’s be optimistic about the future, and fly with resilience and hope.

 

Stay well, 

Ronnie Coffman