Agriculture Secretary Vilsack announced that 150 tons of wheat stem rust-resistant wheat seed was safely planted in Afghanistan. The seed, which originated from Egypt’s Agricultural Research Center as part of a joint effort with USDA and the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center, is designed to help halt the spread of wheat stem rust that could threaten Afghanistan’s most vital staple crop.

“Developing and maintaining a stable agricultural economy is an important part of the government-wide approach to creating a stronger and secure Afghanistan,” said Vilsack. “The donation and shipment of this seed is a true international effort, not only demonstrating the finest in civilian-military collaboration, but also the potential benefit of partnerships between scientists and researchers in countries around the world to address pressing global issues.”

USDA obtained the seed under a cooperative agreement with Egypt’s Agriculture Research Center and, in turn, donated it to Afghanistan’s Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation, and Livestock (MAIL) for use in a seed multiplication program led by the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization. Recognizing wheat stem rust Ug99 as a threat to the security and stability of the Afghan people, the U.S. Department of Defense transported the seed across the Asian continent in a safe and secure manner.

MAIL informed USDA that planting for multiplication began last week. Once the seed is multiplied, MAIL will work to make it available in 2011 to over 60,000 Afghan family farmers. USDA scientists say that the donation will provide Afghanistan with 65 percent of its rust-resistant wheat seed stocks for the 2011 planting season.

“It is extraordinary partnerships like these that will create more stability in the region and a safer world for everyone,” continued Vilsack. “The several organizations involved in this important effort all deserve recognition, including the Egyptian Agricultural Research Center for their work to develop this strain of rust-resistant seed; USDA’s Agricultural Research Service for their contributions in Ug99 wheat rust research; USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service staff in Egypt, Afghanistan and Pakistan for helping to negotiate the purchase and subsequent donation of this seed; and the U.S. Central Command and U.S. Forces in Afghanistan have played a vital role in securing and transporting the seed, supported by the militaries of Egypt and Pakistan.”

Wheat is the principal food grain in Afghanistan. It is planted on 60 percent of the nation’s cropland and composes approximately 70 percent of Afghans’ annual caloric intake. Worldwide, more than 1 billion people in developing countries count on wheat for their food and incomes. Wheat steam rust can cause up to 100 percent yield loss if left untreated. During the past decade, this particularly strong strain – Ug99 – has begun ravaging food security and wheat stocks in parts of sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East and, if not stopped, will reach the Asian subcontinent.