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Monday, 12 March 2018

Saving maize in Tanzania with nuclear techniques

Hundreds of hectares of prime maize cultivation areas in Tanzania have in recent years been invaded by so called army worms or maize leaf worms, which pose serious danger to crops. In late 2017 more than 7,500 acres of maize had been destroyed according to the Mwanza Regional Agricultural Officer, Innocent Keya.

Agriculture in Tanzania plays one of the leading roles in the economy, contributing nearly 30% of GDP and more than 50% of the country’s employment and the sector is on the rise.According to the World Bank’s crop production index, Tanzania’s crop production rose by 44% during 2008–2013, far exceeding Sub-Saharan Africa’s total average growth rate of 18%. 
Among the crops, maize has a special place in terms of ensuring food security. Tanzania is listed inthe top 25 countries that take leading positions in cultivating maize. 

Maize is one of the most important crops in Tanzania, and accounts for more than 40% of all cultivated lands. The production of maize accounts for more than 70 % of the cereal produced in the country.
It’s estimated that between 85 to 90% of Tanzania’s population, about 50 million people, consume 90% of the maize production. The rest is exported mainly to neighboring countries. Most of the maize (80 %) is produced by small scale farmers and is grown both for subsistence and as a cash crop.
To guarantee future crop yields and food security maize seeds and plants should be protected.

In order to prevent these disastrous effects from insects, there are traditional and unconventional methods. Farmers can use huge amounts of pesticides, which have a negative impact on the environment and result in the development of resistance against pesticides among various insect species. Alternatively there is an option of using nuclear science to deal with these harmful pests, this while not affecting soil and environment. 

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is using nuclear science to develop environmentally-friendly alternatives for pest control. The IAEA and the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) are jointly sponsoring projects and conducting research on control of insect and pests using ionizing radiations. They have placed considerable emphasis on the Sterile Insect Technique (SIT) to effectively deal with insect pests such as army worms. 
SIT involves rearing large populations of insects that are sterilized through irradiation (gamma or X-rays), and introducing them into natural populations.

 The SIT technique is environmentally-friendly, and has proved an effective means of pest management even where mass application of pesticides have previously failed. Another benefit of this technique is that unlike pesticides which kill important harmless insects such as bees, SIT is able to target an individual insect while posing no threat to others.

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