In Afghanistan, wheat is not only a diet staple but is also the country’s most widely grown crop.
When an invasive fungus known as Ug99 threatened to damage and destroy Afghan wheat, the USDA joined forces with U.S. Central Command and U.S. Forces-Afghanistan to help stop it. Together in late 2010, they delivered 150 tons of USDA-donated Ug99-resistant wheat seed to Afghanistan. The seed arrived in October 2010 and entered Afghanistan’s seed multiplication program.
Over the course of the last month, representatives from the USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS) in Kabul visited the seed-production sites and forecast that the original 150-ton donation will be multiplied into 4,200 tons of certified seed during the current growing season.
For the first time, the Ug99-resistant seed will be distributed to approximately 84,000 Afghan farmers. They will, in turn, plant an estimated 40,000 hectares during the 2011/2012 growing season.
Currently, wheat is grown on more than 70 percent of the cultivated land and comprises more than 50 percent of the daily caloric intake for most Afghans.
Unfortunately, Afghan wheat has historically been plagued by a number of problems including temperamental weather, pest infestation and disease, making it difficult for farmers to keep up with high demand. Agricultural experts fear that if Ug99 goes uncontrolled, it poses another serious threat to wheat crops and ultimately Afghan food security.
Ug99, which is a form of wheat rust, was first reported in 1999 in Uganda where it devastated infected crops. While it has yet to appear in Afghanistan, Ug99 spread up the east coast of Africa, jumped over the Red Sea and has been found in regional pockets of Iran. Afghanistan is now vulnerable and agricultural experts expect Ug99 to surface there at any time.
USDA’s Agricultural Research Service (ARS) scientists and the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) helped develop the Ug99-resistant wheat. Afghans evaluated and approved the new variety, which they named Maquwim-09 for production in Afghanistan.
With the introduction of Maquwim-09, the USDA hopes to keep Ug99 at bay. FAS employees are working with the Afghan Ministry of Agriculture to develop a country-wide distribution system that will ensure the first seed deliveries are to regions where rust poses the biggest threat to wheat crops.
By donating and distributing this seed throughout Afghanistan, the USDA is helping put the country’s once-thriving agricultural sector, which has been devastated by more than 30 years of constant conflict and drought, back on the road to recovery.
This is just one of the many ways that the more than 50 USDA agricultural experts living and working in Afghanistan are making a difference. In a country where more than 80 percent of the population is involved in agriculture, achieving stability in the agricultural sector will help lead to the overall stability and future success of Afghanistan.
To learn more about USDA’s role in Afghanistan, visit our website.