Nuclear Technology in Agriculture: How Africa Benefits

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SEATTLE — When most people think of nuclear technology they think of poisonous radiation, dangerous mutations and atomic bombs. The general public wants to stay away from any nuclear power or anything that can cause harm. While nuclear technology may seem like a foreign entity, it’s actually present in our every day lives. In fact, it plays an important role in medicine, water sanitation, electricity and even the food industry.

Nuclear technology in agriculture is the process of using radiation to change the characteristics of genes in plants, seeds and organisms. The radiation changes the properties of crops in order to sustain life and full cultivation. For example, some crops can become resistant to pests and parasites without harmful pesticides. Radiation can kill bacteria that would cause crop failure and technology can alter the makeup of plant genes to increase crop production.

Background

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) have been working to improve nuclear technology in the agricultural industry for half a century. While the United States and other developed countries have benefitted immensely from the use of nuclear technology in agriculture many many developing countries are missing out. And those who lack access are the ones who need it the most.

In Africa, nearly 800 million people are suffering from chronic malnourishment, and many attribute this to the lack of technological advancements and energy deficits. Indeed, less than half of the continent has access to electricity making any developments, technological or nuclear, nearly impossible. Africa’s agricultural industry remains in jeopardy as crops fail due to climate change and livestock die off due to rising zoonic plagues. However, the combined efforts of the IAEA and FAO, nuclear technology could revolutionize agriculture in Africa and save its at-risk citizens from hunger.

Some African nations are already utilizing nuclear technology in agriculture to optimize cultivation, control pests and insects and kill bacteria. Here are just a few examples of revolutionary initiatives already underway in Africa’s agricultural industry:

3 Examples of Nuclear Technology in Agriculture

  1. Benin
    Five thousand farmers in Benin are in the process of using nuclear technology to improve soil and water balance. New techniques have caused an increase in maize crops by 50 percent while also using 70 percent less fertilizer. Other crops such as soybeans have tripled in the past few years after farmers began mixing seeds and bacteria through nuclear technology. This has revolutionized Benin’s farming industry, which makes up 40 percent of the economy.
  2. Sierra Leone
    Many children in Sierra Leone are suffering from micronutrient deficiencies, meaning even when they are getting food, it doesn’t have enough vitamins and mineral they need. One of the most crucial nutrients lacking in Sierra Leone is iron. In 2018, Sierra Leone had the highest child mortality rate in the world —estimated at 110 out of 1000 live births — the cause relating to lack of nutrients in an already limited supply of food. The IAEA and the FOA have used nuclear technology to develop cassava and rice crops that yield greater quantity, are rich in nutrients and are less vulnerable to disease outbreaks. The World Bank is also utilizing nuclear technology in Sierra Leone to combat disease-causing pests as part of its Pest Management Plan (PMP) to increase food security throughout the nation.
  3. The Central African Republic
    This land-locked nation is in the middle of a civil war making it difficult for scientists to access fields to conduct experiments. These experiments are part of the IAEA’s and FAO’s plan to increase the cultivation of the cassava plant, as seen in Sierra Leone and much of central and western Africa. This plant is one of the most sought after crops in the region for its high content in carbohydrates and fiber, essential nutrients in communities where vitamins are scarce. Due to the rising conflict and disease outbreaks, this essential crop is in danger of failing. The IAEA and FAO plan to use nuclear technology and plant irradiation to protect the remaining cassava plants and promote higher yield rates in future rotations.

Whether it relates to the mutation of plants, pest control, seed irradiation, disease prevention or sanitation, nuclear technology is paving the way to revolutionize agriculture in Africa. Recently the IAEA and FAO met in Vienna at the Ministerial Conference on Nuclear Science and technology to discuss progress made in sustainable development and work to improve nuclear technology in agriculture not only in Africa but throughout the entire world. The IAEA warns that at the current rate of fossil fuel consumption, our entire supply could be drained by 2030. With resources being depleted at an irreversible rate, the need for a nuclear technology revolution in Africa has never been more necessary.  

– Becca Cetta
Photo: Flickr

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