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Kingbird released in Ethiopia to combat new stem rust threat

Kingbird released in Ethiopia to combat new stem rust threat. Credit: Linda McCandless

Farmers in Ethiopia are banking on Kingbird, the latest variety of wheat to be released by the Ethiopian Institute for Agricultural Research (EIAR). Kingbird is resistant to Ug99, the devastating race of stem rust first identified and subsequently race-typed as TTKSK in 1999, and TKTTF, a new stem rust race identified in 2012 that raged through so many Ethiopian farmers’ fields in 2013 and 2014.

The scourge of wheat farmers the world over, stem rust can quickly turn a wheat field into black stalks empty of grain when environmental conditions are optimal.

The new variety was evaluated at multiple locations in Ethiopia during the 2014 season and approved for release in 2015. “Kingbird offers new hope for resource-poor farmers in stem rust prone areas of Ethiopia,” said Fentahun Mengistu, EIAR Director General. “It is expected to replace the varieties Hawi and Pavon-76 in lowland areas, and complement Kakaba, Ogolcho, Shorima and a few other mid-altitude varieties.”

As Ronnie Coffman, vice-chair of the Borlaug Global Rust Initiative (BGRI), the international network of scientists, breeders and national wheat improvement programs that cooperated on the release of Kingbird, pointed out, crop diseases do not respect international boundaries. “Wheat farmers the world over are threatened by outbreaks of new races of yellow and stem rust of wheat on an almost yearly basis. It takes persistent and continually evolving international efforts to protect staple crops like wheat on a global scale.”

“Kingbird’s multi-disease resistance attributes combined with good bread-making quality and good yield performance led to its release in South Africa and Kenya a few years back,” said Ravi Singh, senior wheat scientist at CIMMYT, whose team is instrumental in making the initial crosses for most new wheat introductions in the developing world.

The pipeline for developing varieties such as Kingbird has been directed by the Durable Rust Resistance in Wheat (DRRW) project at Cornell University, acting as BGRI secretariat, since 2008. CIMMYT, the international Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA), national agricultural research systems, and 22 other institutions assist in the effort. Generous support is provided by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the UK Department of International Development (DFID).

To read more on Kingbird’s development and spread and the efforts to protect world wheat production, check out the BGRI blog, “How Kingbird moved across East Africa.” A poster abstract by Zerihun Tadesse, wheat breeder at the EIAR, may be found here.

Rust-resistant wheat varieties, new rust races, surveillance, monitoring, and gene stewardship will be topics at the 2015 BGRI Technical Workshop, 17-20 September, and the International Wheat Congress, 20-25 September, both in Sydney, Australia. Follow the conversations at #BGRI2015 and #IWC9.

CIMMYT wheat breeder Sridhar Bhavani talks about the recently discovered virulence of TKTTF on Robin in Kenya, and Digelu in Ethiopia, and the new Kingbird release here.