The men move three steps right to a slightly more robust clump of wheat. The Australian asks: “Yandanooka?”
“25 MR?” comes the tentative reply from a mustachioed Nepali in a green baseball cap. They slide over to inspect another stalk, and then another.
To the women at the tap, faces scrunched in puzzlement, the call-and-response sounds like gibberish — and to most of the world, it is. But to the jumpsuited strangers in East Africa — a group of elite plant pathologists — these codenames and numbers are a lingua franca, describing just how badly a crop has been ravaged by disease. These specialists have come to Njoro on this autumn afternoon to study a scourge that is destroying acres of Kenyan fields. The enemy is Ug99, a fungus that causes stem rust, a calamitous disease of wheat. Its spores alight on a wheat leaf, then work their way into the flesh of the plant and hijack its metabolism, siphoning off nutrients that would otherwise fatten the grains. The pathogen makes its presence known to humans through crimson pustules on the plant’s stems and leaves. When those pustules burst, millions of spores flare out in search of fresh hosts. The ravaged plant then withers and dies, its grains shriveled into useless pebbles.
Red Menace - Stop the Ug99 Fungus Before Its Spores Bring Starvation