Maize stem rust threat to SA food security

THERE is a growing fear that the country might run short of maize to feed its population since the devastating maize stem rust disease, Ug99, has hit maize producers in South Africa.

Plant health experts said the disease posed a serious threat to the country and had the potential of affecting other crops.

The virus was discovered during a routine surveillance of plants by a Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) team.

Maize rust is carried by the wind but can also be carried on clothes or in plant matter. The biggest concern is that it can move to other continents through unwitting human carriers.

The FAO is now monitoring the spread of the disease and developing plans to curb its effect oin South Africa and on its neighbours.

"The emergence of the Ug99 in Africa had transformed stem rust from a disease largely under control into a significant global threat," said the FAO's David Hudson.

He said the spread of a virulent Ug99 variant into South Africa had raised further concerns about the spread of the disease because of its destructive effect on crops.

"Ug99 is like the flu virus. It evolves continuously," he said.

Economists have appealed to stakeholders to urgently find remedies for local plants as the disease could cost the country dearly. This, in turn, could affect consumers negatively.

Agri-SA economist Dawie Maree said the outbreak of the disease was a problem because the country was currently not producing enough to feed its population. He added that the country depended highly on imports.