From the podium

From the podium


Mr Werner Burkart (Deputy Director-General, International Atomic Energy Agency - IAEA)

The International Atomic Energy Agency is best known for its statutory role in the verification of international safeguards agreement relating to the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons. Less known is our role in the promotion of peaceful nuclear applications for health, food and agriculture including the implementation of the World Food Summit Plan of Action adopted here in Rome five years ago, and of Agenda 21, IAEA is involved in the transfer of nuclear technology providing cutting-edge, and sometimes unique, solutions to problems.

At the birth of the International Atomic Emergency Agency 45 years ago, the slogan "Atoms for Peace – aptly described the intent of the Members States. Now, as a mature Organization, and befitting this Summit, "Fewer Swords, More Plowsbares" seems appropriate today.

Good nutrition and health go hand in hand with the availability of nutritious and affordable food, which is greatly affected by, soil conditions, insect pests, and lack of water. The IAEA, working with the Food and Agriculture Organization, supports the use of nuclear technology to increase food production by, for example, combating insect pests, developing improved crop varieties and increasing soil fertility, or by fostering the appropriate use of fertilisers and better irrigation. Due to the importance of this cooperation between IAEA and FAO, the two organizations are operating a programme through the Joint FAO/IAEA Division of Nuclear Techniques in Food and Agriculture, which includes the activities of a unique laboratory in the UN System – the Joint FAO/IAEA Agriculture and Biotechnology Laboratory in Seibersdorf, near Vienna.

Insect pests can be controlled in an environmentally-friendly way using the sterile insect technique (SIT) – a technique that involves rearing of the males of the pest in a laboratory, and then irradiating them with gamma radiation to make them sterile, thus preventing reproduction upon mating with wild females when released into the environment. This technique, which allows reduction of the use of pesticides, has been successfully used to control or eradicate many insect species, such as fruit flies and screwworms, and has yielded large economic benefits. IAEA is working with FAO, WHO and OAU/IBAR to support the OAU's Pan African Tsetse and Trypanosomiasis Eradication Programme (PATTEC) by making the technique available to Member Countries to create large areas free of the tsetse fly, a root cause of poverty and hunger in sub-Saharan Africa.

In breeding improved crop varieties, radiation can be used to create subtle genetic changes in plants. Radiation has made food and commercial crops more resistant to disease or drought, and has been used to improve the quality of the produce.

Agriculture is the largest user of the very scarce resource, water. Sound management of water resources is critical in sustainable food production and development. Isotope hydrology is used to assess sources of freshwater, determining the age, movement, and condition of water, tracing pollution, sediments, etc., to help improve water management.

Finally, let me turn to what I consider to be crucial for food security and sustainable development: protection of the marine and terrestrial environment. Oceans provide food for a good portion of the planet's population and play a major role in regulating climate. The IAEA's Marine Environment Laboratory in Monaco is actively involved in protecting the world's oceans by working with regional organizations to improve their capacity to use nuclear techniques to monitor and assess marine pollutants, like heavy metals and pesticides.

This World Food Summit: five years later, has been convened because it became clear that the original goal of cutting the number of hungry in half by the year 2015, would not be met without greater effort. IAEA welcomes the convening of this Summit and renews its commitment, within its mandate and resources, to work with Member Countries, the FAO and all other partners towards more effectively overcoming the scourge of hunger.

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