As the wheat sowing season is nearing, a noted agriculture expert from Punjab, RG Saini has said there was no reason to panic from stem rust or 'Ug99', a deadly airborne fungal disease that afflicts the wheat crop.
Coordinator of bio-sciences center of Central University of Punjab, Saini hoped an increase in the wheat production this season as in the last few years there was no epidemic-like situation of any fungal infection on the wheat crop, in any part of the country.
"In the last four-five years, stray outbreaks of different kinds of rust diseases were controlled timely due to the consistent efforts of scientists, agriculture extension network and the media. Though the deadly Ug99 has not shown its presence in the Asian regions in the recent years, the agricultural authorities should keep a tab on this disease and its severe fallouts," said Saini, who was at the Directorate of Wheat Research (DWR) here to attend a function commemorating its 36th foundation day.
Saini is credited as the only Indian scientist who had identified and designated two novel wheat leaf rust resistance genes Lr (leaf resistance) 48 and Lr49.
In 2000, he was the first an Asian whose work on the genetic research was acknowledged at the international forum and no Indian has so far contributed in this direction after Saini.
Ug99, having its origin in Uganda, is known for causing widespread damage to wheat fields in African countries and its presence was about half-a-decade ago confirmed in Iran, too.
The UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) has termed the disease as a "genuine risk" to global food security, with India being one of the countries that could be at the receiving end of an outbreak.
The most devastating form of stem rust, Puccinia graminis, attacks the plant's stem, forming lethal, scaly red pustules and experts say the disease may cause up to 100% damage to wheat in the affected areas.
"DWR, a nodal institution for coordinating the testing of wheat and barley technologies under All India Coordinated Wheat and Barley Improvement Project, has successfully developed several varieties resistant to various fungal diseases, including Ug99," he said.
'Media can play a vital role'
The director of DWR, Indu Sharma said the media could play a vital role in creating awareness on agriculture management.
"Himachal Pradesh is an example where the problem of stripe rust was controlled completely within two years due to the intense media coverage on the wheat protection. Media can play a role by reaching out to the farming community by forwarding the messages of scientist from the various research institutes in combating agricultural problems," she said.
Sharma urged the farming community to sow different wheat varieties resistant to various fungal diseases and monitor their fields regularly to control its spread.
She urged to work on a national mission mode to reclaim nearly 2 million hectare land in different states, including Haryana, West Bengal and Rajasthan, where there is problem of excess salinity and sodic contents.
"If it is achieved, then the excess area would be available to meet the growing demand of foodgrain for the country," she said while urging the farmers to adopt sprinkle and drip irrigation system for best utilisation of natural resources.