Kenya Preparing to Release Wheat Resistant to Stem-Rust Fungus

Kenya may release this month two wheat varieties resistant to a stem-rust fungus that U.S. intelligence views as one of the world’s biggest threats to food production.

The varieties resistant to UG99, a strain identified in neighboring Uganda in 1999, “will be named and released for farm use in weeks,” Miriam Kinyua, a plant breeder at the University of Eldoret, 165 miles (265 kilometers) northwest of Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, said yesterday in an interview.

Tests to help find the varieties were partly done at the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency using nuclear technology, and the University of Eldoret, the IAEA said in an e-mailed statement Sept. 4. UG99 can destroy 70-100 percent of the yield of wheat plants if no fungicides are applied, it said.

UG99, which can be transmitted by wind, spread from Uganda to Kenya, Ethiopia, Sudan, Mali, Jordan, Iran, Turkey, Syria and Yemen in about four years and may “risk global wheat production if not contained,” Qu Liang, Director of the Joint Food Agriculture Organization/IAEA Division of Nuclear Techniques in Food and Agriculture, said in an interview in Eldoret.

In a statement to the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence in March, James R. Clapper, the director of national intelligence, said the disease may cause “a near-term supply disruption” when it arrives in South Asia, “which is likely to happen within the next few years.”

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