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Building Global Capacity to Combat Wheat Blast

Researchers and experts from 15 countries convened in Zambia, between 4-15 March 2024, for an international training on wheat blast disease screening, surveillance, and management.

Wheat blast, caused by pathogen Magnaporthe oryzae pathotype triticumis threatening global wheat production especially in warmer and humid regions. The disease was first observed in Parana state of Brazil in 1985 and subsequently spread to Bolivia, Paraguay, and Argentina. Outside of South America, wheat blast incidences were recorded for the first time in Bangladesh in 2016 and in Zambian wheat fields in 2018.

To mitigate the impact of this potential plant pandemic, the Zambia Agriculture Research Institute (ZARI), in collaboration with CIMMYT and other partners, organized a comprehensive training for building research capacity and raising awareness within the local and international community, especially in at-risk countries.

“This collaborative effort, supported by various international partners and funders, underscores the importance of global cooperation in addressing agricultural challenges such as wheat blast. The objective of the training was to empower researchers with knowledge and tools for enhanced wheat production resilience in regions vulnerable to this destructive disease,” said Pawan Kumar Singh, principal scientist and project leader at CIMMYT. Singh collaborated with Batiseba Tembo, wheat breeder at ZARI-Zambia, to coordinate and lead the training program.

Thirty-eight wheat scientists, researchers, professors, policymakers, and extension agents from countries including Bangladesh, Brazil, Ethiopia, India, Kenya, Mexico, Nepal, South Africa, Sweden, Tanzania, United Kingdom, Uruguay, Zambia, and Zimbabwe convened at the Mt. Makulu Central Research Station in Chilanga, Zambia.

“Wheat blast is a devastating disease that requires concerted efforts to effectively manage it and halt further spread. The disease is new to Africa, so developing capacity amongst country partners before the disease spreads more widely is critical,” said Tembo.

Highlights from the training: discussions, lab exercises, and field visits

During the training, participants engaged in lectures, laboratory exercises, and field visits. There were insightful discussions on key topics including the fundamentals of wheat blast epidemiology, disease identification, molecular detection of the wheat blast pathogen, isolation and preservation techniques for the pathogen, disease scoring methods, disease management strategies, and field surveillance and monitoring.

The course also provided practical experience in disease evaluation at the Precision Phenotyping Platform (PPP) screening nursery located in Chilanga research station. This involved characterization of a diverse range of wheat germplasm with the aim of releasing resistant varieties in countries vulnerable to wheat blast. Additionally, participants undertook field visits to farmers’ fields, conducting surveillance of wheat blast-infected areas. They collected samples and recorded survey data using electronic open data kit (ODK) capture tools.

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