Combating wheat rusts in Pakistan by increasing wheat varietal diversity on farm

Wheat rust is a group of deadly, constantly changing fungal pathogens that pose a serious threat worldwide and also equally most important in Pakistan. Three participatory wheat seed value chain workshops conducted in Pakistan in 2014 indicated the predominance of informal seed systems in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Pothwar region of Punjab. A relatively old and rust susceptible variety Sahar06 was covering nearly 50% area of irrigated wheat in Punjab while the coverage of TD-1 was nearly 75 % of wheat area in Sindh. Predominance of mega susceptible varieties with informal seed systems can be an important recipe for the outbreak of rust diseases threatening the stability of wheat production systems in Pakistan. It is challenging to continue to improve and sustain wheat productivity by reducing vulnerability of wheat varieties to rust diseases, both in time and space when more than 70% of wheat seed used comes from farmers' own farm saved seeds mostly of old and obsolete varieties. To address this, 17 recently released rust resistant wheat varieties with diversity in genetic background, adaptation and good yield potential have been deployed through a network of partners to nearly 10,000 smallholder farmers in parts of 62 districts of Pakistan. Varietal deployment was done by coordinating on farm participatory varietal selection with agronomic interventions and village level seed multiplication and marketing. Though, rusts pathogens can evolve into new strains that are more virulent and damaging to wheat crops, nevertheless, some of these varieties do carry known genes conferring resistance to yellow, leaf or stem rusts thereby help avert any sudden rust epidemics. This effort will be instrumental in improving the access to new seed varieties in the grassroots level and widening the genetic bases of wheat that will help in buffering the rust incidence and contribute to household food security of smallholder farmers in Pakistan.

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