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Climate-induced disease may cut wheat production by 13%, study

Climate change is making it harder to grow food because it’s causing more plant diseases. A group of researchers

By Ground Report
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Climate-induced disease may cut wheat production by 13%, study

Climate change is making it harder to grow food because it’s causing more plant diseases. A group of researchers led by Professor Senthold Aseng from the Technical University of Munich has studied a fungal disease called wheat blast. They found that if this disease keeps spreading, it could reduce the amount of wheat we produce worldwide by 13% by 2050. This is a big threat to food security.

Regionally up to 75% of total wheat acreage affected

Wheat is a very important food crop. It’s grown on 222 million hectares around the world and we produce 779 million tonnes of it. But like all plants, wheat is getting more diseases because of climate change. One of these diseases is wheat blast.

Wheat blast is caused by a fungus called Magnaporthe oryzae. It’s a big problem in hot and humid areas and was first seen in 1985. It started in Brazil and then spread to other countries. The first cases outside South America were in Bangladesh in 2016 and Zambia in 2018. Now, researchers from Germany, Mexico, Bangladesh, the US and Brazil have made a model to predict how wheat blast will spread in the future.

Climate data from 1980 to 2010 simulated the data for baseline potential wheat yield loss due to wheat blast. Source data: nature.com

The researchers think that South America, South Africa and Asia will be most affected by wheat blast in the future. They predict that 75% of the wheat growing areas in Africa and South America could be at risk.

The study, which was published in Nature Climate Change, says that the wheat blast will keep spreading to countries that weren’t affected before, like Argentina, Zambia and Bangladesh. It’s also starting to appear in countries that it wasn’t in before, like Uruguay, Central America, South-Eastern America, East Africa, India and Eastern Australia.

Wheat blast threatens crops, solutions needed

According to the model, the risk is low in Europe and eastern Asia, except for hot and humid areas of Italy, southern France, Spain and south-east China. But in places where climate change is causing drier conditions with heat above 35 °C, the risk of wheat blast might be lower. However, in these places, the heat stress reduces the amount of wheat that can be grown.

The areas that are most affected by wheat blast are also the ones that are most affected by climate change. Food insecurity is already a big problem in these areas and the demand for wheat is increasing, especially in cities. In many areas, farmers might have to grow other crops to avoid losing their crops and money.

For example, in the mid-west of Brazil, farmers are growing maize instead of wheat. Another way to avoid losing crops is to breed wheat varieties that are resistant to wheat blast. CIMMYT, in collaboration with National Agricultural Research System (NAR) partners, has released several wheat blast-resistant varieties which have helped reduce the impact of wheat blast.

First study on yield loss due to wheat blast

Before this, when scientists studied how climate change affects crops, they mostly looked at things like higher temperatures, changes in when and how much it rains, and more CO2 in the air. They didn’t really look at wheat blast.

For this study, the scientists used a computer model that simulates how wheat grows and how much it yields. They added a new model for wheat blast to see how it affects wheat production. The model takes into account things like the weather and how the plants grow.

This lets the scientists see how the disease affects the wheat when it’s at a very sensitive stage of growth. The study is focused on how wheat blast affects wheat production. The scientists are worried that other effects of climate change could make the yields even lower.

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