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October 08, 2011

Two new stem rust-resistant wheat varieties released

by Erick Akasa

Scientists have released two new wheat varieties resistant to the wheat rust disease. Ug99, as the wheat rust is commonly known, is a serious disease that attacks the stem of wheat leading to low yields.

Ug99 is wind-borne disease and can travel large distances. It has seven races within the lineage and there may be chances of mutating further.

Resistant cultivars are now being released in several countries in Africa and Asia. With all these cultivars farmers will benefit not only from resistant to stem rust, but resistance to other diseases, and have higher yield than with existing varieties. They will also contain the quality characteristics needed by farmers.

In Kenya the two varieties released are Robin and Eagle-10, which are currently being multiplied by the Kenya Seed Company. Close to 10 tons of seeds will be available for distribution to the farmers by the end of the year.

According to Dr. Dave Hodson of the International Maize and Wheat Centre, CIMMYT Ethiopia, the two new resistant wheat cultivars released by KARI -Njoro have good resistance to Ug99 under intensive screening in Kenya.

Hodson said if enough farmers grow these resistant types then it will do a great deal to reduce the problem of stem rust.

“The new varieties are affordable to the farmer to manage since there will be reduced pressure to diseases hence less problems to the small scale farmer who cannot afford high cost of production,” Dr Hodson said.

He advised breeders to avoid using single major genes since with rust, they mutate and can overcome resistance with time.

“Although maize is still the most important cereal in the country, wheat has become increasingly important due to rural urban migration and changing dietary habits,"assistant minister for Agriculture Gideon Ndambuki says.

The demand for wheat has been growing at 5 per cent per annum and this has not been matched by production.

"Currently, the national demand for wheat has increased to nine hundred metric tons (900, 000MT) against a national production of three hundred thousand metric tons (300,000 MT)," notes Ndambuki.

Ndambuki said wheat production can be increased by addressing current constraints facing the farmers especially small scale farmers who not only have limited resources for production, but also lack access to technologies for production.

He said the new technologies have come at the right time since the use of fungicide has not saved the farmers either because the cost of producing wheat has increased by more than 40 per cent given that the farmer has to spray more than three times and each spray may cost not less than Sh 3000 per hectare.

Africa Science News

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