Last year, the devastating disease wheat blast was observed in South Asia for the first time. Caused by the fungus Magnaporthe oryzae pathotype Triticum (MoT) and first discovered in Paraná State, Brazil, in the mid-1980s, blast constitutes a major constraint to wheat production in South America. The sudden appearance of a highly virulent MoT strain in Bangladesh presents a serious threat to food and income security in South Asia, home to 300 million undernourished people and whose inhabitants consume over 100 million tons of wheat each year. Last year, blast caused considerable production losses in Bangladesh. Approximately 15,000 hectares in the south-western and southern districts of Kushtia, Meherpur, Chuadanga, Jessore, Jheneidah, Barisal and Bhola experienced crop losses due to blast. Average yield loss was estimated at 25-30 percent, but in severely infected fields, the entire crop was lost.
Actively responding to this problem, the Ministry of Agriculture formed a task force through the Bangladesh Agricultural Research Council to suggest recommendations to mitigate wheat blast. Recommendations included a combination of integrated pest management and the development and adoption of resistant cultivars and agronomic methods. A fact sheet with recommendations prepared by the task force was distributed among farmers to raise awareness on how to manage wheat blast. In combating the disease, it is paramount that scientists and extension personnel are adequately trained to assess and manage blast.
The Cereal Systems Initiative for South Asia (CSISA), led by the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) in partnership with national and international partners, organized a 12-day training on “Taking Action to Mitigate the Threat of Wheat Blast in South Asia: Disease Surveillance and Monitoring Skills” in February in Bangladesh. Experts from CIMMYT, the CGIAR research program on wheat, Cornell University and Kansas State University facilitated the training, in addition to scientists from Bangladesh Agricultural Research Institute (BARI) and Bangladesh Agricultural University, for 40 wheat pathologists and agronomists from Bangladesh, India, and Nepal.
The training focused on providing participants information about the science and practical constraints in designing and conducting a disease survey, obtaining and analyzing the results and formulating the interpretation. In-depth classroom and lab sessions were held at BARI’s Wheat Research Center in Dinajpur followed by week-long practical surveillance exercises in farmers’ fields throughout all major wheat growing areas of Bangladesh, and sessions on molecular analysis of wheat blast at BARI in Gazipur. “This training will increase the capacity of Bangladesh and neighboring country scientists, thereby strengthening research on wheat blast and monitoring disease through intensive surveillance,” said Md. Fazle Wahid Khondaker, Additional Secretary (Research), Ministry of Agriculture, at the inaugural session.
The training was funded by BARI, CIMMYT, CSISA, Delivering Genetic Gain in Wheat project led by Cornell University and Kansas State University and Australian Center for International Agricultural Research.
This article is authored by M. Shahidul Haque Khan, Communications Officer, CIMMYT-Bangladesh.