May 29, 2013: Initial rust surveys in Malawi reveal only low levels of leaf rust

malawi_surveyWheat is a minor crop in Malawi, however the geographical location situated between the wheat growing countries of East Africa and Southern Africa raises the question whether it acts as stepping stone for the movement of wheat rusts, especially stem rust, between the two regions. No prior information was available on the status of wheat rusts in Malawi, hence these surveys represent the first attempt to fill these information gaps.

Surveys were conducted during the period 23-27th May 2013 and covered the Central and Northern regions. The surveys were  organized by Donwell Kamalongo, Chitedze Research Station, Lilongwe with participation of scientists from Chitedze and Salima research stations and CIMMYT. A total of 12 fields were surveyed at widely dispersed sites close to Dedza, Tsangano, Ntchsi and Rumphi. Far less wheat was present on the ground than expected, with only the Tsangano area on the border with Mozambique holding any number of wheat fields. The variety SC Nduna was found to predominate in most areas. The only rusts found on the survey were in Tsangano with leaf rust being present at three locations on cultivars Kachibonga and Nduna. No stem or stripe rust were observed on the survey. Leaf rust samples were collected and sent to Prof. Zakkie Pretorius at the University of the Free State, South Africa for race analysis.

From evidence obtained on the survey it seems very unlikely that Malawi is playing any significant role in the possible movement of stem rust from East Africa to Southern Africa during this season. The virtual absence of wheat or rust and the separation of hundreds of kilometers between extremely small and isolated plots makes any stepping stone theory seem unlikely. It is probable that more wheat would be grown during the cool winter season under irrigation and follow up surveys are planned in late August/early September.

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