A recent study warns of a potential 13% reduction in global wheat production by 2050 attributed to the fungal disease wheat blast. This marks the first time an international team of scientists has modelled the future spread of wheat blast, a significant threat to a crop that spans 222 million hectares worldwide and boasts a harvest volume of 779 million tons. Wheat, a cornerstone of global food security, is increasingly vulnerable to diseases accelerated by climate change, including wheat blast, caused by the fungus Magnaporthe Oryzae.
First identified in Brazil in 1985, wheat blast has since spread across South America, reaching Bangladesh in 2016 and Zambia in 2018. The disease poses the most significant risk to wheat production in South America, southern Africa, and Asia. The study, spearheaded by the Technical University of Munich (TUM), suggests that up to 75% of wheat cultivation areas in Africa and South America could be at risk.
The disease's expansion is not limited to regions previously affected. New threats have emerged in Uruguay, Central America, the southeastern USA, East Africa, India, and eastern Australia. However, the model indicates a lower risk in Europe and East Asia, except in specific humid areas such as Italy, southern France, Spain, and southeast China. Interestingly, regions experiencing drier conditions and heatwaves above 35°C may see a decreased risk of wheat blast, though at the cost of reduced yield potential due to heat stress.
Regions most threatened by the wheat blast are already grappling with the impacts of climate change and escalating food insecurity. Urban demand for wheat continues to grow, pressuring farmers to consider alternative crops or invest in breeding resistant wheat varieties to mitigate future losses. For instance, maize is increasingly cultivated in Brazil instead of wheat as a strategic response to the disease.
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