Oh no, Ug99

The newest Wired magazine has a great, terrifying article on Ug99, a fungus that is imperiling wheat crops, auguring possible famines and rising food prices. The story focuses on the damage Ug99 has already caused from southern Africa north to Iran, the USDA's race to genetically engineer resistant plants, and the fungus' possible implications for the United States, where wheat is the third-biggest cash crop.

But I wondered about Ug99's possible implications for Afghanistan -- on the fungus' frontline, and where wheat is the chief legal cash crop. On one hand, this is clearly terrible news. About 80 percent of Afghans are involved in farming; millions of livelihoods depend on wheat, particularly in the north and west. Plus, big wheat hauls recently started cutting into poppy production. On the other hand, by virtue of the U.S. occupation of Afghanistan, the country receives considerable food and seed assistance. The USDA already has an infrastructure in place to help Afghan farmers use higher-yield seeds; NATO and USAID already have an extensive food-aid infrastructure -- that might help mitigate Ug99's effects, if the fungus makes it into Afghanistan this growing season. But here's to hoping it doesn't.

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