Wheat blast surveillance begins today | The Daily Star
03:51 AM, February 07, 2017 / LAST MODIFIED: 03:52 AM, February 07, 2017

Wheat blast surveillance begins today

Aiming to strengthen research on blast, a deadly fungal disease in wheat, scientists from home and abroad will start weeklong field surveillance from today.

Split in three groups, they will cover Jessore region, Rajbari, Faridpur, Barisal and Bhola region and Dinajpur, Rangpur, Bogra and Rajshahi region, said officials at Wheat Research Center (WRC) yesterday. 

Once the surveillance and monitoring is done, intensity and severity of wheat blast throughout the country in this season will be reported. Moreover, the team will also extract DNA from the collected samples for molecular analysis, WRC Director Naresh C Deb Barma told The Daily Star.

The Wheat Blast disease emerged in Bangladesh for the first time last year, causing significant loss in production in seven south-western and southern districts (Kushtia, Meherpur, Chuadanga, Jessore, Jhenidah, Barisal and Bhola). Average yield loss in an affected field was 25 to 30 percent, but in severely infected fields it reached up to 100 percent.

It re-emerged this season, but on a much smaller scale so far.

The weeklong field surveillance comes in a follow-up of an international training programme titled, “Taking Action to Mitigate the Threat of Wheat Blast in South Asia: Disease Surveillance and Monitoring Skills Training” that concluded at the WRC in Dinajpur yesterday.

The WRC is a centre conducting research and development of wheat under the Bangladesh Agriculture Research Institute (BARI), Dinajpur.

The 13-day (February 4-16) intensive training and field surveillance is organised by the WRC, BARI in collaboration with the Mexico-based International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), the CGIAR research programme on wheat, the Delivering Genetic Gain in Wheat (DGGW) project of Cornell University's Wheat Initiative, and Kansas State University (KSU).

Forty wheat pathologists, breeders and agronomists from Bangladesh, India and Nepal are taking part in this programme, with experts from CIMMYT, Mexico, India, Cornell University, KSU, BARI and Bangladesh Agricultural University (BAU) facilitating the training classes.

Fazle Wahid Khondaker, additional secretary (research) at the agriculture ministry, Abul Kalam Azad, director general of BARI, and Naresh C Deb Barma, director of WRC, among others, attended the inaugural and other working sessions of the training programme. 

They called upon the scientists and experts to work together to solve the blast problem giving it a top priority and sustain wheat production in this region.

The USAID and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation funded the programme through the Cereal Systems Initiative for South Asia (CSISA) and CSISA- Mechanisation projects and the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research. 

Responding to this problem, the agriculture ministry formed a task force through the Bangladesh Agricultural Research Council (BARC) last year to suggest recommendations to mitigate wheat blast.

A fact sheet with recommendations was distributed among farmers to raise awareness on how to manage wheat blast. Moreover, awareness building workshops have been organised in seven agricultural regions across the country which were attended by district and upazila-level DAE and BADC officials and NGO representatives.

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