A virulent wheat stem rust that has already ravaged stocks in sub-Saharan Africa threatens Afghanistan’s crop as well, so in a joint effort with Egypt the United States has planted 150 tons of rust-resistant wheat seeds in the war-torn nation.

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Viilsack announced last week that USDA obtained the seed under a cooperative agreement with Egypt’s Agriculture Research Center, which developed the seed 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, according to a USDA news release.

Planting began last week. Once the seed is multiplied, it will be available in 2011 to more than 60,000 Afghan family farmers. USDA scientists say the donation will provide 65 percent of Afghanistan’s rust-resistant wheat seed stocks for the 2011 planting season.

“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 in the press announcement.  “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.”

Vilsack cited the Egyptian Agricultural Research Center for its work to develop the strain of rust-resistant seed; USDA’s Agricultural Research Service for its 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 the seed; and the U.S. Central Command and U.S. Forces in Afghanistan, supported by the militaries of Egypt and Pakistan, for safely and securely transporting the seed.

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. Wheat steam rust can cause up to 100 percent yield loss if left untreated.