GERMANY – A recent study led by Professor Senthold Asseng and an international team of researchers from the Technical University of Munich (TUM) reveals that the further dissemination of the fungal disease known as wheat blast could precipitate a decline in global wheat production, potentially slashing yields by 13% by 2050.
This revelation underscores the perilous intersection of climate change and food security, with plant diseases emerging as a formidable menace to agricultural productivity worldwide.
Wheat, a cornerstone of global food security with a sprawling cultivation area of 222 million hectares and an annual harvest volume of 779 million tons, confronts an escalating onslaught of diseases exacerbated by shifting climatic conditions.
Among these adversaries looms wheat blast, a fungal pathogen (Magnaporthe oryzae) that has wreaked havoc on wheat production since its emergence in Brazil in 1985.
As temperatures rise and humidity levels surge, the disease has gained traction, infiltrating regions previously untouched by its destructive influence.
The study’s projections paint a dire picture for regions grappling with the advancing frontiers of wheat blast.
South America, southern Africa, and Asia emerge as the epicenters of vulnerability, with up to 75% of wheat cultivation areas in Africa and South America at risk of succumbing to the disease’s onslaught.
From Argentina to Bangladesh, nations face mounting peril as wheat blast encroaches upon territories unscathed until now, imperiling livelihoods and exacerbating food insecurity in regions already reeling from the ravages of climate change.
Adapting strategies amidst uncertainty
As the specter of yield losses looms large, agricultural communities confront the imperative of adaptation. In regions where wheat blast threatens to wreak havoc, farmers may be compelled to diversify crops or embrace resistant wheat varieties to mitigate the risk of catastrophic losses, the study notes.
Collaborative efforts spearheaded by institutions like CIMMYT and NARs aim to fortify agricultural resilience through the development and dissemination of wheat blast-resistant cultivars, offering a glimmer of hope amidst the encroaching threat.
Effective management strategies, rooted in a nuanced understanding of local conditions, offer a lifeline against the relentless advance of wheat blast.
By adjusting sowing schedules to circumvent periods conducive to disease proliferation and implementing targeted interventions during critical growth phases, farmers can bolster crop resilience and safeguard against potential devastation.
However, these measures demand concerted action and support from stakeholders across the agricultural spectrum.