What is agricultural nuclear technology?
The isotopes used in much of the Joint FAO/International Atomic Energy Agency Programme’s work exist in nature – soil, plants, animals and air, and subsequently in the food we eat. Scientists use them in a number of ways in the food and agriculture sector
Combating pests and diseases: the sterile insect technique involves mass producing insect pests and sterilizing them with gamma radiation emitted by radioisotopes; when the males are released in the target region and mate with wild females of the pest population, they create no offspring. Gradually, the population is reduced.
The Joint Programme used the sterile insect technique to help eradicate the medfly from Chile, opening export markets for fresh fruit worth US$500 million over the first five years.
Increase crop production: exposing plants to small doses of radiation helps change the genetic make-up of plants and lead to improved varieties.
In Ghana, new varieties of cocoa beans – the source of chocolate – are making this crop more resistant to swollen shoot disease.
Protecting land and resources: isotopes measure soil, water and nutrient storage, soil erosion, and fertilizer and pesticide waste; they enable farmers to keep closer track of their operations and use vital resources more sparingly and effectively.
Monitoring of soil water storage led to more efficient use of irrigation water in Uzbekistan, cutting waste by an estimated 25 percent.
Ensuring food safety: irradiation is used in food to kill bacteria such as E.coli.
A project in Pakistan addressed hygiene-testing of fresh fruits and vegetables, enabling food standard guarantees and thereby increasing trade outlets.
Increasing livestock production: scientists use isotopes to study hormones and learn more about reproduction cycles, which helps in areas such as the timing of artificial-insemination programmes.
In Bangladesh, staff have been investigating difficulties in breeding cattle and buffaloes, in an effort to increase reproduction levels.
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