rust never sleeps

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The developer of the “Green Revolution” in agriculture, Norman Bourlag was fond of this quote as a warning to researchers and growers about the constant threat of wheat rust. This is a fungal disease which affects the stem of the growing wheat plant, depriving it of fluid transport and eventually killing the growing plant. It has been around forever, but in many different forms, and plant breeders strive to out-wit the rust by breeding and using strains of rust resistant wheat. The latest GM technology has been employed in the fight against rust, and seemed to be successful until Nature again outwitted the researchers and breeders and a new strain of rust emerged in Uganda in the late 1990`s, known as Ug99.

This new strain has begun to spread and is causing some alarm as it appears to be spreading to south Asia. It has already spread from Uganda to Kenya where it devastated crops and to Eritrea and Ethiopia and has been found in Iran and Azerbajan.

 The bad news is that new mutant strains of Ug99 have already been discovered in South Africa and it is infecting the newly created supposedly resistant strains of wheat, which have been urgently bred-up by the DRRW (durable rust resistance in wheat) program, heavily funded by the UK government and the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation. The DRRW has thrown large amounts of money into the program, and in the same manner as the whole Green revolution, the money has been used on artificial fertilizers and fungicide, which is  a non sustainable approach, and is already coming undone as Nature outwits the singularity of such methods. Larger and corporate farms in South Africa for example have been able to reduce losses due to being constantly updated and due to the availability of controls, notably fungicides. All other African farmers, who tend to be small landholders (80% in Ethiopia), are subject to the “wagg” however as none can afford the cost of fungicides. “Folicur” is the fungicide of choice here, but it casts US$37/litre which covers a hectare, but must be spayed 3 times per season.

 Apart from the cost, Folicur is registered as “Environmentally hazardous” is toxic to fish and aquatic organisms, could harm the unborn, irritates the eyes and skin, harmful if swallowed and is a suspected endocrine disruptor. As well as  the initial purchase price, the fungicide requires the use of protective clothing, hardly available to small scale farmers, but also requires a special nozzle for application, again probably not easily available (except from the corporation)and not affordable for the small scale farmer. So the hidden costs exacerbate the already unaffordable purchase price, not to mention the environmental costs.


An overview of the situation has to ask about the whole green revolution practice of growing wheat outside its environmental range. The fact that this new exotic rust, which seems able to mutate rapidly originated in Uganda and rapidly spread to Kenya would seem to indicate that the environment  in those places favours the development of fungi and is the reason wheat was never grown there traditionally. This idea is supported by the rapid mutation of the rust, again a characteristic of an environment where fungi are eco-dominant, an environment which is clearly unsuited to a cereal susceptible to fungal attack, as Wheat is well known to be.

The corollary however is that once it has found a susceptible host and outwitted its inherent immunity, even rapidly mutated to cement its dominance, the rust then is free to spread as a wind-borne vector, up the great rift valley to Eritrea and Ethiopia, both heartlands of wheat dispersal and growth. This is an eco-disaster and it can be claimed only occurred because of the practice of growing Wheat outside its environmental range. The factors which select for fungal dominance of this kind, are heat and moisture, “damp-heat”, predominant in these kinds of ecosystems, but the moisture component notably absent in the environment of the wheat heartlands.

This may be an ethno-centric aspect of the “green revolution”, born in laboratories of advanced 1st world cultures, to “do good” in less  technologically advanced cultures. Is it benign but misguided? The native, local and appropriate  cereals of hot-moist ecosystems are usually the millets and rices which are not susceptible to the “waggs”, or very much less so and on a manageable scale. But millet is not as fashionable as wheat and of course does not produce the culinarily-favoured products of wheat…risen breads and pastries, which as foods of the dominant societies are seen as more desireable. The inaffordability of the chemical/technical inputs of the “green revolution” for small farmers, who comprise the majority of African farmers, was the reason for the lack of success of the initial green revolution initiatives there. Coupled with what may be eco-incompatibility of the actual food sources favoured by the western researchers, based on inappropriate  ethnocentric-culinary choices of actual crops promoted, the situation may be going from bad to worse.


Another interesting aspect of the new rust “wagg” is its ability to also infest another eco-inappropriate cereal (for Africa), Oats. If the “wagg” could be blown into Europe by favourable winds, it could cause havoc in the new warmer (with eco-inherent damp)climates, not only on Oats, but on European wheat crops. The eco-incompatibility of crops such as wheat in warm-humid climates has caused this new rust and the practice is clearly dangerous as it threatens the rest of the world as well. It is also borne of linear and singular thinking which is a hallmark of Western science, and is clearly not applicable to the dynamism of ecosystems.


It is no surprise really that this new rust originated in Uganda and proliferated in Kenya. Apart from the unsuitable environmental conditions for growing wheat, Kenya is an interesting case study of the effects of high-tech agriculture on a developing society. Kenya has only 3% of its original forest left, so is well cleared. Biodiversity is celebrated in official literature, but all development is “bigger farms, more machinery and fertilisers and GMO seeds”. This sounds like the birthplace of resistant organisms, hunted from original niches and on the lookout for new hosts to infect. What better than hot-house flowers such as Wheat, and of course the infecting agents have the virulence characteristic of equatorial climates…nothing like the climate in the heartlands of wheat.

“Transformation in Africa needs not more large scale industrial farm production, but small farmers practising a multi-functional agro-ecosystem approach.”

Although this approach is lost on corporate farmers as it clearly is not a monopolistic profit generating one,(“ private companies will not invest time and money in practices that cannot be rewarded by patents and which don’t open markets for chemical products or improved seeds”). UN statistics reveal that “yields are up 214% in 44 projects in 20 countries” using agro-ecological farming techniques…. “far more than any GM crop has ever done”.  Married to the statistic that “between 45% and 50%  of all human emissions of global warming gases come from the current form of food production” , and from an independent source that “industrial agriculture was by far the biggest source of climate-disrupting emissions of greenhouse gases” an interesting picture of world agriculture emerges. The same UN report, recently issued (2011), argues that “An urgent transition to eco-farming is the only way to end hunger and face the challenges of climate change and rural poverty”.


As an interesting corollary, the seeming compassion of Bourlag and his green revolution imperative, is offset by the use of food, particularly Wheat in futures trading. The reason  Wheat prices have  soared recently is purely to do with price speculation. Wheat prices jumped 70% in 2010, when global wheat stocks were stable. Price movements in food are no longer simply subject to supply and demand, as agricultural commodities are attracting excess liquidity in international markets, as other factors “far less transparent and constantly changing” are playing a greater role in determining prices. Food markets have become entwined with financial and energy markets which are highly volatile. Billions of dollars are now made by speculators who have moved on from stock market crashes to find new sources of investment in the “food bubble” which has created record prices, “starving millions and de-stabilising countries”. The recent unrest in Egypt and the middle-east has a direct cause in food prices and supply, largely caused by the Russian federations move to restrict wheat imports, which was in turn an initiative of the speculators, as Russia has huge stocks of grain. This was done so that speculators could get out of low cost contracts with Egypt for example, and re-negotiate more profitable deals.

This is of course in concert with already unstable political situations which seem to require only a small trigger(such as an increase in the price of staple foods) to initiate social friction.  


The green revolution initiatives can then be seen in a new context of what is becoming popularly known as “vampire squid economics”. Bourlags undoubtedly well-meaning initiatives are simply sabotaged by those aspects of big business which flourish through futures trading and speculation on speculation. Growing and consuming Wheat as a local phenomena should short-change the Squid, and has become a very political act, besides being highly appropriate in almost every other sense.



pollyanne 2011 April 2

 Thank you very much, John, for starting this topic.  Industrial agriculture is definitely the elephant in the room.  May I please direct interested parties to The Land Institute, in Salina, Kansas, USA,  <>     where serious scientific work on the future of agriculture has been taking place for over 25 years.  I was made aware of this organization through reading Wendell Berry, from whom I also learned about the follies of Big Agriculture, and the fallacy that the techniques of industrial agriculture ought to be exported from first world countries to third world countries to "save" local farmers from themselves.  In short, The Land Institute is working to develop strains of perennial grain crops adapted to all kinds of conditions, with no smaller goal than to save the food supply.   This work takes time, and I am not touting it as a solution to the problems that you so clearly describe;  however it is important and necessary work that takes its cue from natural systems, which is where we all should be looking for answers, as you allude to in your piece.

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JohnD 2011 May 6

Thanks so much for your comments pollyanne, but mostly for the link to the land perennial grains, that is far out and interesting thinking/research and execution of the idea....dont we all wish they could get the funding that the planet destroyers get from governments!

rossnroller 2011 April 2

Highly recommend the documentary Food Inc, which shines a light into the dark and secretive corners of the US industrial food and farming industries (and take no comfort, Australians - we are following in the States' footprints). One of the forces behind these unethical and deceptive industries is the evil empire, Monsanto (or Monsatano, as I prefer to call them). Surprise surprise. The use of the word 'evil' sounds melodramatic, but in this case it is entirely appropriate. Watch Food Inc and you'll know exactly what I'm talking about. They could be the evil twin to The Land Institute - but, I fear, a far more powerful one.

Factor in the possible environmental catastrophes we are facing and UG99, and you'd have to say we've made a hellavu mess of it.

I don't quite share John's extreme views on science, because the positives it has contributed to our world are as massive as the negatives. There is hope;science can deliver as well as damn us. But it's not down to science, which is neither good nor evil. It's down to us. All of us.

It's a worry that political leadership is so short-sighted, so poll-driven, so locked into a self-survival mindset - and that politicians' electorates, just as short-sighted and self-interested, force them into this way of being. The hard decisions are not being made. There is a time limit on these decisions, and I worry that it is sooner rather than later. I'm not sure the huge turnaround in awareness and mindset that is essential to our future will be made in time.

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JohnD 2011 April 2

Hey Ross, my extreme views are about scientism, not science...and they are shared by an awful lot of minds. Scientism is the mindset we always hear that everything has to be okayed by science, whether it be a food or a medical procedure or an agricultura practice...everybody defers to the nod of science....its the mode of thought which governs all today, and its not benign at all...because there is no philosophy of science, to give it a conscience, it is this monolithic machine, free to be used by the evil and the the evil monsanto are needs to be tempered by organic thought, balanced...the idea that scientific thought is correct because it measures things accurately, is just a small way of looking at the world....there are other valid ways of knowing and understanding which are more integrative, not just linear/measurement solutions.....thats why the new models of agriculture are successful because they arent based on the scientific way of thinking, but include subjective aspects..and I repeat, that the scientific way of thinking has directly led to global warming, so it is dangerous if not tempered with the organic/human input.....wouldnt we all love to see science integrated with nature instead of crushing it..for example monsanto working on organic solutions ?

chazzone 2011 April 4

 One would think that a website devoted to making bread would be free from political and ideological propaganda, yet here is "proof" that even in the midst of those who depend on the world's grain producers, that we still are not free from hypocrisy and ignorance.

Monsanto is "evil"?  Really?  While it is certainly the right of all free people to discuss the relative merits of industrialized agriculture, the fact remains that billions rely on the increased food production, supplied by Monsanto and other agribusiness companies that have spent billions of dollars and employed millions in their quest to increase food production in the last century.

Are there problems associated with commercial farming?

Of course.

Should we be made aware of new threats that evolve in the environment that threaten our livelihood?

Of course.

After all, it has been going on for at least 5,000 years, and it shows no sign of slowing down.

Yet, the last I looked, Monsanto and other agribusiness companies have been around for a century, or less.

So, is the answer that U.S., Canadian, and Australian farmers should go back to just eking out just enough food to provide for their own citizens with expensive grain?

I'm not sure that the starving hordes in Africa and south east Asia would agree.

Nor do I think that they would agree that the "West" gets to decide what is grown where, and by whom.

Maybe John thinks that he is endowed with the wisdom and authority to decide who gets to eat, and grow what, but his adherence to the philosophy of anti-science would suggest otherwise.

While there is much that attributed to "science" that we might disagree, it is really the anti-scientific ideas of "the noble savage", Anthropocentric Global Warming", and some kind of idealized "natural world" that have their basis in politics, and not the facts that are the true threat to all peoples of the world, and the true abomination.

In fact, all these talking points can be found in the journals and publications of radical, eugenicist, and racist ideologies.

John also suggests that "accurately measuring" is somehow evil and wrong, and I would expect that from one who lives in a fantasy world, but from a group that seems to obsess with the most trivial of minutiae in their hobby, I would expect a flat dismissal.

I can go anywhere on the web to find political propaganda, I would prefer that a group devoted to the wholesome past time of making good bread be free from such nonsense.

Panevino 2011 April 4

I can go anywhere on the web to find political propaganda, I would prefer that a group devoted to the wholesome past time of making good bread be free from such nonsense.


I believe that if politics comes up in a bread discussion, it's because it's been there all along, lurking in the backround and waiting to be released from its cage.  I think it's quite naive to think that "politics" belongs in some discussions and not in others.  Politics is about how we live and also how we choose to live and in that way, it's part of the moral universe.  If the folks here see the merit of linking politics with their bread hobby, then power to them, I say.  You point of view is just that; your point of view.  Feel free to express it, but don't think that what people say here is nonsense.  It isn't.  It's a discussion, and one that I respect, even if I don't believe everything that is said.  C'est tu.


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JohnD 2011 April 4

WOW, thanks, sorry I guess i am a bit deluded. Im really glad theres someone out there who really knows whats goin on.....i guess the authors of the UN papers were probably commies as do we all have to do what you "would prefer"?... who is living in a fantasy world?


chazzone 2011 April 4

 I hate to break it to you John, but the majority of the U.N. is made up of communist or totalitarian regimes.  Anyone with even a basic understanding of world politics would be aware of this.

Moreover, I do "really know what's going on", since I have been paying attention for the last 50 years.

Too bad that you haven't.

Whether it is the rape of innocents wherever the U.N. goes, or their wholly flawed IPCC, which has been roundly discredited by real science, it is clear that the U.N. is in no way a reliable resource for information.

It is also apparent to anyone with a real understanding of U.N. policies, that it is in no way working to "better" the plight of the developing world, and there are myriad examples to support this realization.

OTOH, that was not the basis of what I wrote, and this is certainly not the forum to educate you on the matters of the world.

Now, if I am mistaken, and this is a forum for children to spread the propaganda of the Left, then I am certainly in the wrong place.

I was under the impression that this was a place where those of us who share a love of baking with sourdough could go and share ideas about our avocation.

rossnroller 2011 April 4

You disagree on some points (actually, all points - which suggests that you are in no position to start declaring others extremists!). Fine. Why resort to peurile ad hominem guff? There goes your cred from the beginning!

So, to focus on your 'points' and not your modus operandi, sure agribusinesses have been around for a while, and sure, there are benefits - perhaps profound ones - to harnessing science to safeguard food supplies through breeding species that thrive in harsh conditions etc. But let's not be so simplistic in our presentation. There are other sides to the equation.

1. The jury is still out on GM. Perhaps you have prophetic powers, or scientific genius such that you know something about the safety of GM crops that the rest of the scientific world doesn't. If so, please avail us of your esoteric knowledge and its source so we may RIP on this issue.

2. Please comment directly on Ug99, its causes, dangers and the solution to the apparently dire potential problem it poses. Forget about attacking John - just stick to the topic.

3. Monsanto:

a) How about commenting on their strategy to genetically structure their grains so that the seeds from the crop will not germinate, thus forcing countries, including the poor ones they are apparently committed to saving from famine, to buy grain from them for the next season ad infinitum. What a fine upstanding company. Or are they only 'protecting copyright'?

b) What of their litigious bullying of farmers who refuse to sign up with them as an exclusive provider of GM seed, such that the farmer is either bankrupted or forced into buying from them?

c) What of their appalling litigious targeting of farmers whose crops have been contaminated/pollinated by adjacent Monsanto-supplied GM crops? Through no fault of their own, not only have their previously GM-free crops been contaminated by Monsanto's product, but they then face legal action by Monsanto for copyright infringement (all it takes to legally prove the point is an analysis of the grain - if GM-contaminated, Monsanto can claim that the farmer owes them royalties!). Is this the handiwork of a fine upstanding company?

d) How about their creation of a control-resistant batch of superweeds that they then released, knowing only they had developed a herbicide that would be effective? Ethical business?

To me, instances like these point to a tyrannical, unethical and monstrously powerful organisation that is positioning itself as a monoploy in global grain supply. There is unprecedented danger in this - if you control the world's food crops, what else can you control?

Responses directly to points raised, please - try to keep your ego in check and resist that ad hominem reflex.

panfresca 2011 April 4

 As a newcomer, one of the things which attracts me to is the gentle, friendly atmosphere, unsullied by the testosterone-driven flame wars which mar the typical internet forum.

There are plenty of places where the politics of this subject are discussed in great depth... and personally I would like to see it either left to those places, or perhaps a separate part of this forum hived off.

The reason is that discussions like this elicit such strong opinions, tending towards the extreme on both sides - and being divisive, risk destroying the friendly helpful environment. 

I am only a newcomer, so I don't really have any say in this - except to say that I would really hate to see this forum dragged down to the level of so many others.


rossnroller 2011 April 4

I don't see why topics in the general area of artisan bread should not be aired here. John's post was about a grain danger that should be considered by all. The discussion to emerge from that is also relevant IMO. Defensiveness (and aggro) is never constructive - to which, dare I say, one of our recent exchanges bears testimony, Kym! But as with our discussion, the way forward was to continue to communicate.

Hopefully, that's what will transpire here.

BTW, threads on bread alone can sometimes get very heated, with people slinging their weight around in a most unseemly and boorish manner. Have a look at this one.

There are some other doozeys on this site, too, if you delve a bit deeper.

There are always going to be hotheads, egotists and over-zealous folk around. That should not mean we all tread politely and adopt a timid-is-best approach. The key is respectful communication, and sometimes that gets lost - but that's an almost inevitable human failing when people are expressing things they feel strongly about. The alternative is a boring smiley-smiley coffee table culture. Lawd save us from that brand of mediocrity, I say!



chazzone 2011 April 4

Ross, I'd be quite interested to see where I made any personal attacks.  

IMO, I did not.

Yet, you did insult me, and intertestingly, didn't confront a single point that I made.

Quite typical for your ilk.

I simply stated that I didn't appreciate seeing political propaganda in a forum supposedly dedicated to bread, then illustrated the offending aspects of the original posts.

I realize that you hold similar extremist views, so I'm not entirely surprised that you would react irrationally, although at least another poster seems to understand and agree with my position

BTW, it does not constitute an attack for me to point out your and John's errors and short comings.  

Although, I'm not sure that you have the mental ability or perspective to appreciate the distinction.

To your further points, GM foods were not originally mentioned, although there is no evidence that any GM foods are in any way harmful.

If you happen to posses contrary information, then please share the specifics, as I would be quite interested to see these real studies.

Point of order, it is not on me to prove your fantasy.

Quite the opposite is true.

So far, the only studies that I have seen after years of research, are clealry works of fiction, or so incomplete as to be completely worthless.

The issue of UG99 is entirely relevant, and I never wrote that it was not.

Again, you seem to be unable to actually read and comprehend what I wrote.

As I stated, there are problems with agribusiness, and the idea of terminator seeds is one of those, as is the fact that seed companies have been heavy handed in their dealings with private farmers.

I have first hand knowledge of this, since I came from a farm family, live in one of the most important agricultural states in the U.S., and work directlly with farmers.

I have been a proponent of appropriate technology and what you kids like to call "sustainable" agriculture for probably longer than you have been alive, but I also have been around long enough to know that the subject is more complex than you can apparently comprehend, and instead of adopting an ignorant and childish perspective, I am able to include the entirety of the subject.

The fact is that you are simple minded and uninformed.  This is not a personal attack, rather a statement of fact from someone who is capable of seeing the big picture.

Now I realize that you are unable to keep your ego in check, so please feel free to flay about in childish wails, while I laugh at your impotence.

You see, you and this site offer nothing that is so important, that I would subject myself to the likes of you, and your opinions are certainly not worth any self respecting person  really caring about.

As I wrote earlier, if I have to be subjected to children spouting leftist propaganda, then I'm clearly in the wrong place, and will happily leave.

Have a nice life.


rossnroller 2011 April 4

Your assumption that you're talking to a bunch of kids is flattering, but I'm afraid I'm on the wrong side of 50, and I suspect John is a slightly older vintage still.

In any case, age is surely irrelevant. It's all about the ability and willingness to engage in rational debate rather than a schoolyard-level "I'm right, you're wrong" bingle. The points are there for you to pick up if you want, chazzone. Or you can cut and run, with a few parting jibes. Not much percentage in that IMO, but your choice.

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JohnD 2011 April 5

One really has to wonder about posters like this guy, using the forum to disgorge their venom,  contributing to the debate through  bullying...always the tactic of the ignorant and deeply unsatisfied..why bother unless one has deep anger and frustration to vent?.

What i write is a simulacrum, I dont attempt to pass anything off as truth. Information only becomes a lie when we are told it is a truth and not a simulacrum.

JustineG 2011 May 11

Normal 0

Talking about industrial agriculture seems to be strange but it basically gives us lot of ideas in connection to the things around us. This helps us to evaluate the things that we do including the things that we really care. In connection to this wonderful discussion, I’m glad to share that the Facebook game Farmville currently claims about sixty two million active users. One foundation in the UK is attempting to reconnect this enthusiasm with real life. The farm is set up for 10,000 subscribers to make decisions about the farm. For this privilege, the electronic farmers pay about $50 each. Here is the proof: Online Wimpole farm creates real-life Farmville


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JohnD 2013 January 5

Anybody interested in this stream should look at Fred Kaufmans new book..."Bet the farm", in which he expands on some of the material ive presented here re futures trading in Wheat, and its relation to social unrest and frankly...starvation.

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