Rust

I put this post up at Right-Thinking, but thought I’d mirror it here.

WaPo has a great article about the epidemic sweeping Africa:

A virulent new version of a deadly fungus is ravaging wheat in Kenya’s most fertile fields and spreading beyond Africa to threaten one of the world’s principal food crops, according to the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization.

Stem rust, a killer that farmers thought they had defeated 50 years ago, surfaced here in 1999, jumped the Red Sea to Yemen in 2006 and turned up in Iran last year. Crop scientists say they are powerless to stop its spread and increasingly frustrated in their efforts to find resistant plants.

Nobel Peace laureate Norman Borlaug, the world’s leading authority on the disease, said that once established, stem rust can explode to crisis proportions within a year under certain weather conditions.

“This is a dangerous problem because a good share of the world’s area sown to wheat is susceptible to it,” Borlaug said. “It has immense destructive potential.”

Coming on the heels of grain scarcity and food riots last year, the budding epidemic exposes the fragility of the food supply in poor countries. It is also a reminder of how vulnerable the ever-growing global population is to the pathogens that inevitably surface somewhere on the planet.

This was an epidemic that Borlaug helped control by breeding resistant strains of wheat. But now? Borlaug is 94 years old and has saved billions already. And he’s still going.

Because there hasn’t been a major epidemic in 50 years, only a few living scientists have seen the destructive power of stem rust.

But Borlaug needed no history lesson. He recruited scientists from wheat-producing countries and raised funds to underwrite their work. Foundations in the United States and Japan pitched in, as did the governments of Canada, India and the United States, Singh said. Last year, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation gave $26.8 million to a project led by Cornell University scientists.

A key first step was to comb the world’s wheat for resistant plants that could provide genetic ammunition to hold off the rust.

They found it. And it’s taking a long time to put it into play. Why? Because they aren’t able to use genetic engineering to spread the gene. Assholes like Friends of Earth and Greenpeace have terrified African countries into refusing genetically-engineered crops. Their irrational superstition — and their predating upon ignorance to advance a political agenda — is going to destroy millions of tons of crops and prolong starvation.

Obama’s been talking about taking the politics out of science. If he’s serious, this would be a good place to start — by calling on the nations to allow transgenic crops that can resist the rust fungus. As a man of Kenyan decent, he is in a unique position to gain the trust of African nations that have been lied to by the environmentalists. Will he do it? That simple act could save thousands or millions of lives.

2 Responses to “Rust”

  1. rpl says:

    If wheat rust is anything like soybean rust, then this is not just an African problem. Wind borne spores from the soybean rust fungus routinely cross the ocean and wind up infecting crops here. Even iff we can’t get resistant crops into Africa, we must at least get them deployed everywhere else.

  2. Mike says:

    Indeed, the greatest aspect of genetic engineering may be that it allows us to respond in a short time to this crises, preventing what would have been global catastrophes.