What is state failure? See my conceptualisation of state failure on the right flank below.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Ug99 set to invade the Middle East

MStFB Spillover Alert

Ug99 is an extremely virulent strain of an old threat to wheat fields: the wheat stem rust, also known as the wheat black rust, a kind of fungus with the potential to cause very significant harvest losses wherever it shows up. It was discovered in Uganda in 1999 (hence the name Ug99) and has since then made its way to Kenya and Ethiopia. Now it has been blown across to the Arabian Peninsula, appearing in Yemen. FAO wind pattern monitoring forecasts that Ug99 may soon enter countries like Iran, likely moving on towards Afghanistan, Pakistan and India – countries where even small harvest losses can have serious consequences. There is spread in a more northward direction, too, with Ug99 having surfaced in Northern Sudan, from where it will possibly make its way to Egypt and Turkey.
World wheat stocks are at their lowest since 1972, with global wheat consumption levels having been higher than production levels for six of the last seven years. Major wheat rust epidemics were significantly reduced thanks to the Green Revolution which saw high-yielding, rust-resistant wheat varieties planted in a great number of countries. Now that here comes Ug99, while there are wheat varieties that are resistant to it, too, it will take about five or eight years for enough seeds of those to be produced to supply the world. And meanwhile, there is likely to be a shortage of apt fungicides produced (the other important means of defence) – it’s only with economic use of current and future stocks that we might hope for sufficient damage control should there be a major outbreak of the rust epidemic. The latter is a very complex phenomenon, and whether and on what scale it takes place is affected by a large number of factors. The dire forecasts are coming because of the potential level of havoc an outbreak might wreak, so I gather from what I've learned.
Poor countries will need a lot of assistance to stop the spread of wheat rust in time, and to be able to mitigate any outbreak’s consequences. There’s just the one spill-over effect of the spread of the fungus to defend against, for now, but there might be many others if wheat rust turns out to produce famines and crises over two or three continents later on. Full backing is needed for the efforts of the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center - known by its Spanish acronym CIMMYT - and its Global Rust Initiative (launched in 2005).
This may sound a bit sensationalist, but still it's quite telling that back in the Cold War both the United States and the Soviet Union maintained stocks of wheat stem rust spores for potential use as a biological weapon. That's what's coming from Mother Nature now.
Read more here, here and here.

No comments: