Living With an Agricultural Enemy


The video below is the final part in a six-part series examining the scourge of Ug99, a type of fungus that causes disease in wheat crops — one that scientists worry could threaten global food supplies. Visit our series archive for all published episodes.


In recent years, rust diseases have begun to appear more frequently in Germany. It is mostly stripe rust (or yellow rust), but in 2013, for the first time in decades, stem rust broke out in Germany, and farmers, breeders, and scientists were worried that Ug99 had finally arrived in Europe.

It turned out a few months later that the outbreak had not been triggered by Ug99, but another, equally new stem rust race. But it is too early to say that the blight has been avoided: Tests conducted by the Julius Kuehn Institute, Germany’s federal research center for cultivated plants in Berlin, showed that even without Ug99, four out of five wheat varieties in Germany are susceptible to local stem rusts.

Fungicides have only limited effect, agricultural researchers say, so in the long run, only the breeding of wheat varieties that adapt to the local environment and are resistant against new fungi can provide protection. That’s as true for Africa as it is for Europe, they say — and for farmers the world over.

Check out all six parts of our Food Fight series.

Kerstin Hoppenhaus and Sibylle Grunze are the founders of Hoppenhaus & Grunze Media, a Berlin-based film production studio specializing in documentary coverage of science.