Science, Technology and Innovation

Land, Water and Climate-Smart Agriculture in the Spotlight at FAO/IAEA Symposium



Soil and water form the basis of practically all food production. Unlike the wind or the sun, however, soil is a finite non-renewable resource, and water is also finite and often non-renewable. These two crucial resources have been deteriorating in the past decades due to unsustainable human activity and climate change. Current agricultural practices are causing soils worldwide to be eroded up to 100 times faster than natural processes replenish them, according to the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD). Many governments are seeking innovative solutions to this problem and are turning to nuclear science and technology. To bring such solutions to the fore, the IAEA, in cooperation with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), is hosting the International Symposium on Managing Land and Water for Climate-Smart Agriculture, from 25 to 29 July 2022 in Vienna.

“The cutting-edge applications of peaceful nuclear technologies being discussed at this symposium give us enhanced insight into how climate change is impacting the natural resource base that all food production on the planet depends on,” said Maria Helena Semedo, Deputy Director-General of FAO. “This exciting work literally connects high-tech laboratories with farmers’ fields and is a clear example of the amplifying power that science and innovation can bring to bear as we work to build a food-secure future that leaves no one behind.”

The five-day event will bring together national and international experts from more than 90 countries, including decision makers, scientists, academics and researchers, members from other UN organizations, such as United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), and will feature speakers from 50 countries. They will discuss issues, such as climate change and greenhouse gas (GHG) mitigation strategies; plant nutrition and nutrient cycling to enhance crop productivity; soil erosion; land degradation and soil conservation measures; agricultural water management; ways of tracing pollutants and assessing their impact on crops and the environment.

The participants will present recent developments in nuclear and isotopic techniques to enhance the resilience of livelihoods to threats and crises that impact agriculture and food security, identify knowledge gaps and opportunities for development in climate-smart agricultural practices, and provide up-to-date information on innovative approaches and new technologies for soil resilience and adaptation to climate change.

Of particular interest will be the recent developments in nuclear technologies, tools and techniques applicable in soil and water research and their potential integration with advanced techniques, such as digital technology in agriculture, geographic information systems (GIS), deep learning and modelling techniques.

“This Symposium serves as an international forum to discuss soil, water and agricultural issues – with the help of nuclear techniques,” said Lee Kheng Heng, Scientific Secretary of the symposium and Head of the Soil and Water Management and Crop Nutrition Section at the Joint FAO/IAEA Centre of Nuclear Techniques in Food and Agriculture. “It facilitates the exchange of information, knowledge and best practices among professionals from all over the world to improve collective understanding, foster collaboration and improve capacity to respond to the challenges posed by climate change in the agriculture sector, both at the national and the international levels.”

“It grants the participants an insight into the new developments in nuclear and isotopic techniques, which can help strengthen global resilience to the threats posed by climate change, as well as other stresses impacting agriculture and food security,” she said.

From innovation in nuclear techniques to transformation of food systems

The IAEA and FAO have been working in partnership since 1964, and the Joint FAO/IAEA Centre advances and supports the application of nuclear and related technologies in food and agriculture, working across different spheres. For example, in relation to soil and water management, the Centre works to improve resource use efficiency by crops and in cropping-livestock systems, fostering agricultural development. Regarding climate change adaptation, the Centre develops novel applications of fallout radionuclides techniques as decision making tools and helped more than 70 countries to combat soil erosion and land degradation, alleviating challenges in food security and sustainable agricultural development.

“In fact, the Joint Centre has been playing a vital role in research for development, capacity development and technology transfer, by combining the mandates of both FAO and the IAEA,” said Ismahane Elouafi, FAO Chief Scientist.


“Nuclear technologies benefit natural resources, increase food safety, while boosting crop and livestock productivity; in addition, nuclear technologies provide helpful instruments to address human health crises, including the most recent COVID-19 pandemic,” she said.


Read more about the work of the Joint FAO/IAEA Centre.

IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi and FAO Director General Qu Dongyu will provide opening remarks at the event, followed by keynote presentations from Rainer Horn, the President Emeritus of the International Union of Soil Sciences (IUSS), and Qingfeng Zhang, Chief of Rural Development and Food Security Thematic Group at the Asian Development Bank. FAO Chief Scientist, Ismahane Elouafi will provide the closing remarks.

Join the symposium

The symposium will be held as an in-person event. Persons who would like to virtually attend can register as an observer. The symposium will also be livestreamed.

For more information, see the preliminary programme. Follow the Symposium on social media with #Atoms4Climate.