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Thread: A Threat from afar "Billions at risk from wheat super-blight"

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    i pwnd ur ooda loop selil's Avatar
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    Default A Threat from afar "Billions at risk from wheat super-blight"

    In th nature of this forum looking to the future for conflict possibilities I propose the following story from New Scientist. In all of history the things that could cause bitter war have always seemed to be food and religion. If you're hungry and starving you have nothing to lose (and it naturally balances population numbers!).

    Recently at a DHS briefing they talked about something called mono-culture, or the fact that all wheat is basically the same strain and could be taken out by a simple blight (thereby killing a lot of people).

    The story is located here and selected quotation follows.

    Billions at risk from wheat super-blight

    "This thing has immense potential for social and human destruction." Startling words - but spoken by the father of the Green Revolution, Nobel laureate Norman Borlaug, they are not easily dismissed.

    An infection is coming, and almost no one has heard about it. This infection isn't going to give you flu, or TB. In fact, it isn't interested in you at all. It is after the wheat plants that feed more people than any other single food source on the planet. And because of cutbacks in international research, we aren't prepared. The famines that were banished by the advent of disease-resistant crops in the Green Revolution of the 1960s could return, Borlaug told New Scientist.

    The disease is Ug99, a virulent strain of black stem rust fungus (Puccinia graminis), discovered in Uganda in 1999. Since the Green Revolution, farmers everywhere have grown wheat varieties that resist stem rust, but Ug99 has evolved to take advantage of those varieties, and almost no wheat crops anywhere are resistant to it.

    The strain has spread slowly across east Africa, but in January this year spores blew across to Yemen, and north into Sudan (see Map). Scientists who have tracked similar airborne spores in this part of the world say it will now blow into Egypt, Turkey and the Middle East, and on to India, lands where a billion people depend on wheat.

    There is hope: this week scientists are assessing the first Ug99-resistant varieties of wheat that might be used for crops. However, it will take another five to eight years to breed up enough seed to plant all our wheat fields.

    The threat couldn't have come at a worse time. Consumption has outstripped production in six of the last seven years, and stocks are at their lowest since 1972. Wheat prices jumped 14 per cent last year.

    Black stem rust itself is nothing new. It has been a major blight on wheat production since the rise of agriculture, and the Romans even prayed to a stem rust god, Robigus. It can reduce a field of ripening grain to a dead, tangled mass, and vast outbreaks regularly used to rip through wheat regions. The last to hit the North American breadbasket, in 1954, wiped out 40 per cent of the crop. In the cold war both the US and the Soviet Union stockpiled stem rust spores as a biological weapon.

    After the 1954 epidemic, Borlaug began work in Mexico on developing wheat that resisted stem rust. The project grew into the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center, known by its Spanish acronym CIMMYT. The rust-resistant, high-yielding wheat it developed banished chronic hunger in much of the world, ended stem rust outbreaks, and won Borlaug the Nobel peace prize in 1970.


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    Council Member marct's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by selil View Post
    Recently at a DHS briefing they talked about something called mono-culture, or the fact that all wheat is basically the same strain and could be taken out by a simple blight (thereby killing a lot of people).
    One of the nice things about being an Anthropologist is that our field of study is "humanity" and anything connected with it - that means that we all tend to flow between different research foci and read eclectically.

    Mono-culture crops have been a problem even since we stated using horticulture ~12,000 bp. These is excellent evidence that at least one if not two Sumerian (souther Iraq) civilizations collapsed as a result of moo-culture. It is also probable that the Mayan civilization collapsed as a result of it as well. If you want a really good book on the topic, try Tainter's Collapse of Complex Societies. For a more modern view of the dangers inherent in monocropping in its more modern form, try Jeremy Rifkin's The Biotech Century - it's somewhat out of date, but not bad for a general introduction.
    Sic Bisquitus Disintegrat...
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    Registered User M1911A1's Avatar
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    Interesting. Given the rise of the use of corn for ethanol, around the world, I could see a major issue in detemining priorities in either choosing food or fuel for many. Unless of course they consume rice or other grains.

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    Council Member bismark17's Avatar
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    Default re:

    That issue is already becoming a problem in Iowa. Thanks for the book suggestions "anthroman" I am ordering them right now.

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    Quote Originally Posted by M1911A1
    Interesting. Given the rise of the use of corn for ethanol, around the world, I could see a major issue in detemining priorities in either choosing food or fuel for many. Unless of course they consume rice or other grains.
    Related discussion in the Warfare: Food Supply/Access thread.

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    Council Member marct's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by bismark17 View Post
    That issue is already becoming a problem in Iowa. Thanks for the book suggestions "anthroman" I am ordering them right now.
    No worries, Bismark . Actually, I had a student last term who has been doing an amazing job of analyzing food production-distribution-consumption chains with a special interest in the development of policies for bypassing agribusiness / the food conglomerates. She spent 20 years as a chef before going back to school and just got accepted to do an MA in the Political Economy of Food. I can ask her if she knows of any really good papers on adaptations to monocroping that don't involve a collapse scenario.

    Marc
    Sic Bisquitus Disintegrat...
    Marc W.D. Tyrrell, Ph.D.
    Institute of Interdisciplinary Studies,
    Senior Research Fellow,
    The Canadian Centre for Intelligence and Security Studies, NPSIA
    Carleton University
    http://marctyrrell.com/

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    Council Member 120mm's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by bismark17 View Post
    That issue is already becoming a problem in Iowa. Thanks for the book suggestions "anthroman" I am ordering them right now.
    Here in Germany, they are also having a problem of beer prices skyrocketing, due to the competition between Rapeseed for oil, and barley, which use the same kind of ground.

    It has been bad enough for me to switch to wine....

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    Council Member Featherock's Avatar
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    Default Wheat and Conflict

    I've been following this story for a while now. I've been developing a story on 'food security' and I'm trying to pinpoint a place or a region that's in conflict over wheat production/consumption. I'm not necessarily talking open warfare, but any place that might prove useful in illustrating the broader themes of 'food security'. For instance, the conflict in Darfur, Sudan, can be explained as a conflict over resources, eg., water/arable land that has become more acute as climate change in the region has forced many agrarian communities to migrate. Any suggestions?

    Steve F/

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