Remember awhile back, when a fertilizer magnate raised the specter of global famine? He said:

If you had any major upset where you didn’t have a crop in a major growing agricultural region this year, I believe you’d see famine … We need to have a record crop in 2008 just to stay even with this very low inventory situation.

In that context, you hate to read stuff like the following, from the U.N.:

A dangerous new fungus with the ability to destroy entire wheat fields has been detected in Iran, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) reported today.

The wheat stem rust, whose spores are carried by wind across continents, was previously found in East Africa and Yemen and has moved to Iran, which said that laboratory tests have confirmed its presence in some localities in Broujerd and Hamedan in the country’s west.

Oh, oh — it gets worse.

(Hat tip to the Ethicurean.)

Up to 80 per cent of all Asian and African wheat varieties are susceptible to the fungus, and major wheat-producing nations to Iran’s east — such as Afghanistan, India, Pakistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan — should be on high alert, FAO warned.

“The fungus is spreading rapidly and could seriously lower wheat production in countries at direct risk,” said Shivaji Pandey, Director of FAO’s Plant Production and Protection Division.

Widespread susceptibility to a single disease is a symptom of monocropping and the razor-thin genetic base on which we’ve chosen to hang our agriculture. When entire regions grow the same few varieties of a key staple, something as tiny as a fungus can cause loads of trouble. Just ask the Irish.

So the U.N. is working to boost crop diversity in the affected regions, right? No. Instead, guys in white lab coats are concocting “disease-resistant” wheat strains — which they’ll try to get farmers to plant en masse, in vast monocrops. Of course, diseases evolve, developing resistance to the resistance that’s been cooked up in the lab. Back to the article:

The Borlaug Global Rust Initiative (BGRI) — founded by Norman Borlaug, Cornell University, the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA), the Internatioanl Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), and FAO — will continue its work in assisting countries develop drug-resistant wheat varieties, upgrading their plant protection measures and creating contingency plans.