Disease outbreak threatens Zambia wheat production



from ARNOLD MULENGA in Lusaka, Zambia
LUSAKA, (CAJ News) AN outbreak of wheat blast, a fungal disease, in Zambia could have a devastating impact the production of the crop in the Southern African country.

Said to be the first outbreak in the continent, this also comes as a major blow overall on grain production in a country that has grown from a net importer to an exporter over the past 20 years.

The International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre (CIMMYT) confirmed the eruption of the disease last week.

Wheat blast has been described as “fast-acting and devastating.”

“Wheat blast poses a serious threat to rain-fed wheat production in Zambia and raises the alarm for surrounding regions and countries on the African continent with similar environmental conditions,” CIMMYT stated.

According to the experts, wheat spreads through infected seeds and spores that can travel long distances in the air.

The Agricultural Business Chamber (Agbiz), quoting the United States Department of Agriculture data, noted Zambia imports about 60 000 tonnes of wheat a year.

There have been plans to expand production of the crop.

“This promising run of wheat expansion could soon be distracted,” said Wandile Sihlobo, Agbiz chief economist, said.

He expressed concern about the possibility of this disease spreading to neighbouring Zimbabwe, to the south.

Zambia’s grain production has increased notably in the recent past, specifically maize, soybeans, and wheat.

Area planted and improvement in yields have boosted this expansion over the past two decades.

– CAJ News

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