Strengthening wheat in South Asia

Linda McCandless
Sunday, March 15, 2015

KATHMANDU, NEPAL: Scientists from South Asia are gathering in Kathmandu to participate in comprehensive training on wheat rust monitoring and disease management. The 2015 SAARC (South Asia Association for Regional Cooperation) Surveillance Training Workshop will foster regional collaboration and equip a new generation of South Asian scientists with the tools and knowledge to manage the threat of wheat rusts. The course is being held 16-25 March at the Crown Plaza (Soaltee) Hotel and the Nepal Agricultural Research Council’s (NARC) Khumaltar research station in Lalitpur. Twenty-three trainees are registered for the course.

“A reddish-brown, windborne fungus known as stem rust re-emerged as a threat to the world’s wheat crop in Uganda in 1998,” said Gordon Cisar, associate director of the Durable Rust Resistance in Wheat (DRRW) project at Cornell and one of the key organizers. “The so-called Ug99 pathogen and its variants have unique virulence to which a large proportion of the world’s wheat varieties lack resistance. Outbreaks of wheat rust pose a threat to global food security.”

As an indication of the international concern regarding this threat to South Asia, the course in Kathmandu is drawing participants from Pakistan, Nepal, India, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Ethiopia, Australia, South Africa, Mexico and the U.S.

NARC is organizing the 2015 SAARC Wheat Rust Training Course with the DRRW and Sathguru Management Consultants, India. The course is one in a series of training courses that have been held in South Asia, resulting in ever increasing, interconnected scientific capacity to deal with the threat of wheat rusts in the region. 

"The DRRW has been working on developing rust resistant varieties with national partners in the region since 2008," said Cisar. He is looking forward to a roundtable discussion on the last day of the conference when key stakeholders in the region will talk about impact, lessons learned and wheat challenges that still need to be addressed.

Wheat is the second most important crop after rice in the SAARC countries, and is the staple diet in Pakistan and India. In Nepal, yields have increased from 112,000 metric tons of wheat grown on 100,000 hectares in 1965/66, to 1.9 million metric tons on 754,00 ha with an average yield of 2,496kg/ha in 2013/14.

Course participants will be exposed to rust pathology, pathogen surveillance, field and laboratory techniques, plant breeding, and statistics. They will learn to update global surveillance data using modern information technology tools known as the SAARC Toolbox, a kit that includes a Rust Survey app developed by Sathguru that works on hand-held tablets. The data is fed into each country’s surveillance database, and ultimately into a global Rust Mapper.

Faculty involved in the training include Baidya Mahto, Sarala Sharma, Dhruba Thupa and others from the NARC, Robert Park (University of Sydney, Australia), Gordon Cisar (DRRW), Zak Pretorius and Neal McLaren (University of the Free State, South Africa), Dave Hodson (International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center- CIMMYT, Ethiopia), Arun Joshi (CIMMYT, Nepal), and Mohinder Prashar (Mahyco, India), among others.

Using lectures and other materials from the course, multimedia specialists from Cornell University will be videotaping the lectures to create an online course in Canvas on the “Art and Science of Plant Pathology” that will be available to the global wheat community and posted on the BGRI website at a later date.