USDA, others bolster Afghan wheat production
150 tons of stem rust-resistant wheat seed planted
By MATTHEW WEAVER
The USDA and other agencies are bolstering Afghan wheat farmers in an effort to strengthen food production and security in that war-torn country.
U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced Nov. 4 that 150 tons of wheat seed resistant to UG99 stem rust were planted in Afghanistan.
The seed originated at Egypt's Agricultural Research Center as part of a relief effort between USDA and the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center.
Wheat is grown on the majority of the cropland in Afghanistan, Matt Herrick, USDA Foreign Agricultural Service public affairs specialist, said. UG99 is one of the most virulent forms of wheat stem rust.
"We can't afford for it to be anywhere, let alone in Afghanistan, where it would undo some of the gains the U.S. government has made in combating the insurgency," Herrick said.
The aid will provide higher quality wheat and seed for Afghan farmers, bolstering overall food security, improving yields and shielding the country from the fungus, Herrick said.
The next step is to finish planting the wheat seed, and using it to produce more seed, which would be available to farmers next year, Herrick said.
Herrick said the efforts will benefit U.S. farmers, although not directly.
"Any time we bring security to other parts of the world, it only strengthens U.S. agriculture," he said. "It strengthens our trading relationships with other countries, it puts everybody on a level playing field."
It's also unlikely Afghanistan would emerge as a rival for U.S. wheat in the global market in the near future, Herrick said.
"What would benefit Afghanistan the most is developing regional markets before they develop any sort of international markets," he said.