GMO – fräls oss

Det finns många som är skeptiska till GMO grödor. Men nu ser vi varför det finns ett stort behov av utvecklade grödor. En sjukdom som kan förstöra upp till 20 procent av en veteskörd har kommit tillbaka. Den utrotades nästan med hjälp av modern forskning och ett vetenskapligt korsningsarbete.

IT IS sometimes called the “polio of agriculture”: a terrifying but almost forgotten disease. Wheat rust is not just back after a 50-year absence, but spreading in new and scary forms. In some ways it is worse than child-crippling polio, still lingering in parts of Nigeria. Wheat rust has spread silently and speedily by 5,000 miles in a decade. It is now camped at the gates of one of the world’s breadbaskets, Punjab. In June scientists announced the discovery of two new strains in South Africa, the most important food producer yet infected.

Det är än så länge en sjukdom som har mestadels har härjat i Afrika. Det kan vara förklaringen till att vi inte hört så mycket om det.  Hade det varit i våra fält så hade nog attityden till GMO varit betydligt annorlunda i västvärlden.

The new variant is called Ug99: Ug for its country of origin; 99 for the year it was confirmed. It soon spread to Kenya and Ethiopia. In 2006 it made a leap over the Red Sea into Yemen, where it appeared in a more deadly form. In 2007 it showed up in Iran, apparently blown from Yemen. In June scientists announced they had found four new mutations of rust (making seven in all) and Mr Pretorius confirmed its presence in a harmful form in South Africa.

Och vi står inför ett reellt och verkligt hot. Vete är grunden för 20 procent av världens samlade kaloriintag.

So far, wheat rust has not caused the disaster that scientists fear. But that, says Ronnie Coffman of Cornell University, has been mainly a matter of luck. So far, no giant producer (China, India, America, Russia) has been infected. The humid conditions that spread rust most readily have recently been lacking in most places. But where the weather was to its liking—Kenya in 2007, for instance—rust destroyed a quarter of the crop and affected four-fifths of all farms. Fungicides afford some protection but huge quantities of chemicals are an expensive and limited answer. Most small farmers in poor regions, including Punjab, cannot afford them anyway.

When the good luck runs out, stem rust can destroy the entire harvest in an infected area. A full-blown epidemic in a big wheat-growing area could therefore be catastrophic. Only a handful of wheat varieties have any resistance to Ug99, implying that harvests could fail even more completely than during earlier epidemics.

Forskarna har kommit en bit på vägen. Men har inte hittat en ny gröda med samma motståndskraft. Man är beroende av handfull åtgärder som tillsammans kan få rostangreppen under kontroll. Men vi kommer sannolikt inte att kunna ”utrota” förekomsten så åtgärderna kommer sannolikt att slå hårt mot produktionen i fattiga delar av världen där man saknar infrastruktur, kapital och kunskap.

Wheat rust and world farming: Rust in the bread basket | The Economist.