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Tuesday, 24 April 2018

Nuclear isotopes help to sustain agriculture and good farming

The main goal of innovation and the development of new technologies is to make our lives better and safer. Technology can be regarded as a primary source of economic development and the various technological changes contribute significantly to the development of emerging countries. Nuclear technology is no exception. Nuclear science and technologies have various peaceful applications to offer. They can help countries to produce more food, treat serious diseases and protect water resources among other uses. Nuclear science developments cover nearly all areas of the Sustainable Development Goals, set by the United Nations to spur global development by 2030.

Let us explore some examples.
Tanzanian islands of Zanzibar were among the pioneers to use nuclear radiation to win the fight against tsetse fly.
The nuclear based sterile insect technique (SIT) played a fundamental role in totally eradicating the tsetse fly population on the island. SIT is a form of insect pest control that involves the mass-breeding and sterilization of male tsetse flies using ionizing radiation in special facilities. The sterile males are released systematically from the ground or by air in tsetse-infested areas, where they mate with wild females, which do not subsequently produce offspring.
The results were impressive. Since 2014 socio-economic studies have shown that the total number of local cattle breeds have increase by more than 35%. That made it possible for local farmers to earn more than 20% of their total income from the livestock business.
The sterile insect technique saves countries many millions of dollars per year and protects farmers’ livelihoods.
“The removal of the tsetse fly has been one of the most important achievements to enhance agriculture and improve the livelihoods of farmers in the last 20 years,” said Khalfan Saleh of the Ministry of Agriculture, who oversaw the national eradication campaign.
“The elimination of nagana has resulted in a reduction in abortion rates in cattle, calf mortality and an increase in meat and milk production as well as an increase in numbers of crossbred cows,” Saleh said.

Nuclear technologies are indispensable in achieving food security.
With nuclear technologies farmers have learned to develop new varieties of crops, which are higher-yielding and more resistant to drought andvarious plant diseases.
By applying radiation in the laboratory, scientists accelerate the spontaneous mutation process that occurs in nature all the time. They can develop new varieties of crops very quickly. This does not involve genetic modification of the plants.
The examples are striking. In Benin, soybean farmers were able to triple their income using the benefits of nuclear irradiation. The implementation of isotopic techniques also makes it easy to regulate the amount of nitrogen in the soil, which is necessary for healthy plant growth.
 “The irradiation does not make the plant radioactive, like a medical X-ray does not make a person radioactive,” said Ljupcho Jankuloski, a plant breeder at the Vienna-based Division of Nuclear Techniques in Food and Agriculture, run jointly by the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). He noted that the method has been used worldwide for more than 70 years and has generated over 3,200 crop varieties. Mr. Jankuloski has been helping a team of scientists in Central African Republic to boost cassava (manioc) production. Cassava mosaic virus affects an estimated 85 percent of cassava plants, disfiguring leaves, stunting growth, and sometimes destroying the root entirely. In response, irradiation techniques derived from nuclear science are being used to create healthier cassava strains that could better resist diseases and boost yields significantly. Ephrem Kosh-Komba, vice dean of the science faculty at the University of Bangui (CAR) says: “nuclear knowledge can actually help humanity through development projects”.
Making use of radiation technologies Tanzania significantlyenhanced its crop productivity, for instance banana seedings have been multiplied through radiation-induced mutation. The technique improved varieties of basic crops such as rice and bananas shielded from viruses and insects. The implementation of modern methods in securing crop productivity is quite important for Tanzania, as over 70% of the citizens depend on agriculture to survive, and it accounts nearly for roughly 25% of the GDP.
Overall, the level of technology development is one of the most important features of country’s economic growth. Rapid and sustainable growth can only be achieved through a high level of innovation and its integration into society and the economy. Schumpeter observed that innovation or technological progress is the only determinant of economic progress. It is technological progress which keeps the economy moving. And nuclear science is an indispensable part of that progress.

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