IAEA Technical Co-operation - A Partner in Development


Building Food Security

Managing Water Resources

Promoting a Sustainable Environment

Enhancing the Quality of Health Care

Ensuring Nuclear Safety


Despite tremendous advances in global agricultural production, many countries still face enormous obstacles in supplying sufficient food for their populations. In Africa, for example, projected demand will require a tripling of the current agricultural output over the next 30 years. Indeed, a country's capacity to produce surplus food remains among the key distinctions between developed and developing countries. In the mid-1990s, an estimated 800 million people remained undernourished across the developing world.

How will the developing world's farmers meet these staggering requirements for more food? What advances in agricultural systems will permit a doubling or tripling of output without damage to the natural environment?

The food and agricultural programme of the IAEA is operated jointly with the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). It assists Member States in using nuclear techniques to enhance both the quality and quantity of agricultural production. As illustrated in the following story, expanding the availability of agricultural land through eradication of insect pests like the tsetse fly in Africa is one approach. Improving the quality of agricultural resources in Asia and Latin America through technologies like mutation breeding is another. As can be seen in Zimbabwe, the use of rhizobia bacteria to inoculate crops and improve soil fertility is proving to be an environmentally safe and economical alternative to chemical fertilizers.

The IAEA's TC activities in agriculture play a small but increasingly catalytic role in promoting sustainable agricultural advances. The following stories illustrate how a new partnership is being forged between scientists, development managers and participating communities through employing a variety of specialized techniques, improved practices and better agricultural knowledge systems.

Winning a Battle; Waging a War: challenging the Tsetse Fly in Africa

Unguja Island, Zanzibar.
A nimble, twin-engined aircraft sets aloft on a sparkling equatorial morning, its cargo bay packed with a precious and teeming payload. Moments into the air, the plane begins to strafe the pastures and jungle below, blanketing the island across a disciplined grid with thousands of tiny weapons of destruction. It's neither bullets nor bombs, however, that are plummeting from this aircraft, but boxes - miniature cardboard boxes full of swarming, buzzing, sterilized male flies.

The aerial assault is the latest technological maneuver in an age old battle to rid Africa of the tsetse fly, which spreads an anaemia-causing disease, trypanosomosis, to herds of cattle across one-third of the mammoth continent And on this lush, tropical and densely-populated island 30 kilometres off Tanzania's mainland, it is a battle that is being decisively won.

"Our tsetse eradication strategy on Zanzibar has met with remarkable success," says Dr. Arnold Dyck, a Canadian entomologist who directs a three-year old, international-donor and IAEA supported operation that rears, irradiates and releases sterilized flies from a base in Tanga, Tanzania. "We've been continually setting traps for flies all over the island and haven't captured a wild fly in the past nine months."

The death knell for this particular tsetse species on Zanzibar marks the close of a protracted campaign. "Back in the early 1980s, many cattle were dying and most others were anaemic and emaciated," says Dr. Kassim Gharib Juma, the Commissioner of Agriculture and Livestock and IAEA's chief counterpart on Zanzibar. "We had to start with basic insecticide treatment of cattle and simple traps, and build community support for our control efforts right down to the household level."

Dr. Paul Mkonyi, Tanzania's national co-ordinator for the IAEA programme, explains how the campaign gained momentum, "Work with conventional tsetse control approaches like trapping and insecticides began a decade ago with support from UNDP, USAID and FAO," he says. "Only after several years of effective on-the-ground interventions did the aerial release of the sterile flies become the optimal choice to finish off the job."

The "Sterile Insect Technique" (SIT) has been successfully used in many parts of the world against other insect pests, such as the Mediterranean Fruit Fly in Chile, Mexico and California, and the New World Screw Worm in Libya and Central America. The idea is to flood an infested area with a high enough ratio of sterilized male insects to cause an accelerating rate of infertility in the females and a gradual elimination of the pest. Unlike most conventional pest control or elimination technologies, SIT carries no risk of negative impacts on the environment or human and animal health.

Nowhere is the success of Zanzibar's SIT campaign more pronounced than in Jozani village, a farming of about 800 people situated on the fringe of the Forest Reserve- the primary breeding ground and stronghold of wild tsetse flies on the island. "Ten or fifteen years ago there were simply no cattle in this area because of the constant threat of disease," says Waridi Abdullah Mussa, a veterinarian working with the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Natural Resources in Zanzibar Town. "Today, there are more than 300 head of cattle in this locality alone providing meat, milk and hides. And the farmers are quite confident that the area is now free from both flies and the threat of the disease."

Dropping boxes of live flies all over the countryside might have shocked unsuspecting communities, but rural people in Zanzibar were well aware of the threat of tsetse-transmitted disease and the numerous measures being taken to reduce the tsetse population.

"Remarkably, farmers never showed any reluctance or confusion about the release of the flies," says Dr. Marc Vreysen, a Belgian entomologist who has been helping to fight Zanzibar's tsetse battle for nearly eight years." They grasped the SIT concept quite naturally and have come to recognize its direct benefits in the health of their cattle. Local people strongly support this programme."

Venturing over virtually every footpath across Zanzibar's lush and rugged terrain in the search for evidence of continuing tsetse infestation, Dr. Vreysen has helped to organize the island-wide system of insect trapping that has provided the strategic foundation for the eradication success.

Of course, no SIT-based eradication campaign could work in the field without a successful and sustainable fly breeding programme. And over a period of less than three years, the Tsetse and Trypanosomosis Research Institute (TTRI) at Tanga has become the largest and most productive in the world, surpassing the first tsetse mass-breeding facilities established by the IAEA and FAO at Seibersdorf, Austria. Credit for this achievement goes to both the Tanzanian and international staff based in Tanga.

"There is still some guesswork in biological control programmes, like finding the optimal ratio of sterile to fertile flies," explains Andrew Parker, IAEA's Technical Advisor who has helped to develop Tanga's mass-breeding tsetse colony, which now surpasses 600,000 female flies. "But the key elements for a successful campaign are well understood: suppressing the fly population as much as possible by conventional methods; boosting sterile fly production as quickly as possible; and then hitting fast and hard with SIT."

Can the success on Zanzibar Island be replicated on the African mainland, where fewer natural boundaries contain the spread of tsetse flies? Can the SIT eradication approach work across a much larger area and on a larger scale? These are precisely the questions being asked at IAEA headquarters in Austria and in Ethiopia's capital, Addis Ababa, where a new first-phase US $ 15 million assault campaign is being devised by the Government.

At least 150,000 square kilometres of Ethiopia's land mass are tsetse infested, and some 10 million cattle face the threat of tsetse transmitted disease. Indeed, an estimated 5 million people in the country are affected by the presence of cattle trypanosomosis, and the disease appears to be gaining in significance.

"Tsetse fly control is a big priority in our government's efforts to promote food self-sufficiency," explains Asrat Bulbula, Head of the Ethiopian Science and Technology Commission, which oversees all nuclear-related development activities in the country. "The techniques and strategy refined in Tanzania will be most important to us. But the scale and organizational structures of Ethiopia make it a very different kind of challenge."

IAEA entomologist Udo Feldmann, one of the pioneers of using SIT against the tsetse fly, puts it this way, "Ethiopia has decided to develop a national SIT capacity as an additional tool for tsetse and trypanosomosis management, and to apply this new method in an integrated approach across the Southern Rift Valley. We are confident that tsetse SIT will become an economically attractive final component of a sustainable area-wide response to the continuous advancement of tsetse into existing agricultural systems."

What is clearly evident from both countries is that nuclear science has identified another valuable tool that can improve people's lives while working to preserve and protect the natural environment. "SIT is a winning technology for combating insect pests," says Canada's Arnold Dyck. "But it requires a happy marriage of managerial skills and appropriate biology."

In just a few years, a mass rearing facility will likely be completed in Addis Ababa and shortly thereafter, airplanes will begin buzzing the Ethiopian countryside, targeting their prey. In a few years more, we should know whether the first battlefield victory on Zanzibar marked the turning point in Africa's war against the tsetse fly.


Research Entomologist

IAEA Seibersdorf Laboratories, Austria
A zoology graduate from the University of Nairobi, Elizabeth Opiyo is a Ugandan research entomologist and staff member of the joint FAO/IAEA division working at Seibersdorf Laboratories. Her current focus is on the development of innovative mass rearing technologies to support applications of the Sterile Insect Technique (SIT), with an emphasis on automation of tsetse fly production.

Elizabeth arrived in Austria in 1995, bringing with her more than 23 years of East African experience with tsetse fly research and control. In the early 1970s, she began conducting field surveys of tsetse flies and human and animal trypanosomosis in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda for the East African Research Organization. By 1977, she had earned a research position with Kenya's Trypanosomiasis Research Institute, where she evaluated the effectiveness of insecticides and other tsetse control measures, and developed a community-based tsetse control programme on the border of one of Kenya's game parks.

Elizabeth's collaboration with the joint division began in 1990 with the field testing of a special formulation insecticide in Kenya that was developed by the FAO/IAEA Agrochemical and Residues Section. As she explains, "I was receiving radio-labelled, insecticide-treated cotton cloths from Seibersdorf exposing them to the natural elements in Kenya and then checking for persistence of the insecticide and the effect on live tsetse flies. Then, I'd send the same strips back to Seibersdorf for chemical analysis to determine how much instecticide remained."

With the tsetse eradication efforts on Zanzibar drawing to a successful close this year, the Seibersdorf Laboratory is now concentrating on automating tsetse rearing methods to meet the higher production requirements of SIT eradication efforts on the African mainland.

"There are several key criteria that have to be met before SIT can be successfully applied to tsetse eradication," explains Ms. Opiyo. "The area where I am directly involved is to ensure the production of the right quality and quantity of flies at the right time and place."

This will be the key challenge for Ms. Opiyo, the Seibersdorf Laboratory and the IAEA as a new TC programme is launched to assist Ethiopia in eradicating tsetse across a vast track of the southern Rift Valley.

Small Farms: Big Gains: Zimbabwe Advances the Natural Way

East Mashonaland, Zimbabwe.
For nearly 50 years, Madzikanda Chakanynka has been cultivating a 5-hectare plot of land in the Murewa Communal Area, a rural settlement located some 80 kilometres northeast of Harare, Zimbabwe's capital. Like most other smallholders around him, Mr. Chakanynka has almost always grown maize, peanuts and fodder for his cattle. But this year the routine has changed dramatically because Mr. Kumbirai Gororo, the local extension agent, has helped him apply a new and promising idea.

A section of land has been devoted to soybeans for the first time - a specially treated soybean that fertilizes itself, grows more robustly and even leaves the land richer after the harvest. Several separate plots have been laid out, some with "inoculated" seeds and some without, following the instructions of Mr. Gororo. Although it's still early in the growing season, the difference between the plots is already clearly visible.

"I'm more than satisfied with these results," says Mr. Chankanynka. "The inoculated plants are bigger, healthier and produce more root nodules. Next year I'll put a lot more of my acreage under this improved crop."

Soybeans are nothing new to Zimbabwe: they have been grown by larger, predominantly white commercial farmers in this country since the 1960s. Nor are the special "inoculated" plants being field tested in Murewa and other Communal Areas anything unusual. "Rhizobia inoculant has been collected and stored by our government scientists since World War II," explains Linus Mukurumbira, section head of the Soil Productivity Research Laboratory (SPRL) in Marondera, about 80 kilometres outside Harare.

What is new is that Zimbabwe's small holders are taking advantage of this "biofertilizer" technology for the first time through the promotional efforts of SPRL and the Ministry of Lands, Agriculture and Water Development with technical support from a new IAEA Model Project. On some 75 small farms in 15 districts scattered around the country, traditional maize farmers like Mr. Chankanynka are witnessing the magic that can be achieved when science is applied to enhance the powers of nature.

"Our laboratory's job is to solve the soil productivity and fertility problems in communal areas," explains Mr. Mukurumbira. "Rhizobia inoculant for soybeans offers one of the best tools for increasing output, enhancing soil fertility and raising farmer incomes, all at the same time."

More than one thousand different strains of rhizobia bacteria have been identified by scientists around the world and a wide assortment of them are being stored in freeze-dried form at SPRL. When applied in liquid form to the seeds of a suitable pulse crop such as peas, soybeans, peanuts or lentils, the bacteria stimulate the production of root nodules that act as a biological nitrogen fertilizer factory, utilizing atmospheric nitrogen as the raw material. The natural nitrogen produced by the nodules not only helps to stimulate growth in the host pulse, but is also available to crops subsequently grown in the same field. Earlier field trials in Zimbabwe showed that inoculation more than doubled soybean yields and performed better than fields treated with 145 kilogram/hectare of ammonium nitrate fertilizer.

By enhancing the capabilities of scientists in using nitrogen-15 (15N) isotopic tracer techniques, the IAEA-TC programme has been helping SPRL to refine the bacteria/pulse matching process. "Nitrogen-15 analysis allows us to follow the pathways of nitrogen through the entire plant growth cycle," explains Mike Nyika, a senior microbiologist working at SPRL. We are then able to calculate the absorption of nitrogen into the plant and the relative efficiency of the particular inoculant."

But the job at SPRL has only just begun whenever an appropriate strain has been identified. In an outbuilding near the main laboratory is a small factory, and for several months each autumn it buzzes with activity as technicians reproduce large quantities of inoculant under strictly controlled conditions and then inject them into a plant-based breeding medium. SPRL's inoculant factory currently has sufficient capacity to produce 120,000 small packages of rhizobia inoculant per year, with each packet potent enough to treat about 50 kilograms of seed. This capacity will soon be increased to about 300,000 packets per year.

The biofertilizer packets could not have arrived at a more appropriate time. After suffering for decades from official neglect and limited growth, Zimbabwe's traditional communal farm sector is finally stirring to life. Deregulation of farm prices is introducing market incentives for the first time, and traditional subsistence farmers are beginning to think commercially.

"Our small farmers are very hungry for anything to boost production and give them value for their investment," explains Mr. Mukurumbira. "Our only limiting factor is that there are too few extension agents at work to reach so many farmers."

Currently about 3 or 4 percent of all soybeans produced in Zimbabwe are from communal farms. But if the interest shown at Murewa and other field test sites is any indication, soybean biofertilizers are a commodity that will sell itself. Economics will also be a contributing factor: soybeans currently bring almost three times the market price of the traditional staple, maize.

"The results on the test plots are dramatic," says extension agent Gororo. "It's going to be easy to convince neighbouring farmers of the benefits of soybean rhizobia when the evidence is right there in the farmer's field."

Dr. Peter Salema, the FAO/IAEA Technical Officer charged with overseeing the project's progress, sums it up this way, "Zimbabwe has a great capacity for production of low-cost rhizobium biofertilizers that can make a huge difference in the lives of small farmers. This affordable technology has great potential for boosting food production in many other developing countries."

Biofertilizers for Bangladeshi Farmers

A TC Model Project is establishing a demonstration plant for the large scale production of Rhizobium biofertilizers in Bangladesh It will also support extensive field trials to demonstrate to farmers effectiveness of biofertilizers increasing grain yields. Early field trials have already shown that the technology typically increases grain production by about 25 percent. Large scale adoption can thus save the country an estimated US$23 million per year in imported grains and some $6 million annually in imported chemical fertilizers.

Improving Barley in Peru's Highlands in Peru

La Molina, Peru.
The diets of poor peasant communities remain inadequate across much of Peru's high Andean plateau. Staple foodgrains cannot be grown here because of the oxygen-short conditions, the stress of daily temperature variations and high ultra violet exposure. An early barley, perhaps introduced from Europe many centuries ago, does manage to survive. But it is poorly acclimatized and its yields are very low.

Local farmers cultivate protein-rich varieties of potatoes and faba bean, which can fix atmospheric nitrogen and naturally fertilize the soil, much the same as the ancient Incas did. Soon they will have a superior barley. With support from IAEA, Peru is applying nuclear techniques to breed new high-yielding grain varieties with built-in stress resistance. A mutant variety of barley, UNA-La Molina, began field testing in mid-1996 and is now being multiplied at several sites in the highlands.

Normal plant breeding requires lots of time. Irradiation of seeds with gamma rays can accelerate the process. The story of the new barley mutant goes back some 15 years to when plant breeder Marino Romero Loli took over the cereals department of the National Agriculture University in La Molina. A son of the high plateau, Romero Loli set course to produce, by breeding and mutation, new varieties of barley and wheat that would be viable in the highlands.

"My initial aim was to improve the diet, health and economy of the highland communities," he explains. "But with some three million hectares of the plateau (in Peru and Bolivia) considerable, the longer term prospect of intensive commercial cultivation was inviting too."

But the essential ingredient to produce a mutant - local parent material - was missing. There was no wheat or oats at all, and the unacclimatized barley was clearly unsuitable. The breeding strategy thus began with field testing a wide collection of wheat, barley and oat germ plasm with support from the FAO/IAEA Joint Division. Some 10,000 varieties provided by centres all over the world were grown in tiny beds to see which did best in the inhospitable climate. From those that showed most promise, Romero Loli's team produced a new barley variety using conventional breeding methods. It underwent cultivation and selection for eight generations, and was released in 1990 under the name Buena Vista.

Peru's nuclear infrastructure, equipment and mutation breeding skills had already been systematically improved through IAEA technical assistance over more than a decade. A US region-wide donation of $1.5 million enabled the Agency to help Peru beyond equipment and training. Plant breeding at La Molina was co-ordinated with work in other FAO/IAEA activities, including a regional programme for Improvement of Cereals through Mutation Breeding in Latin America, and a related Coordinated Research Programme (CRP).

The La Molina team irradiated Buena Vista seeds and obtained the mutant variety UNA-La Molina 95. It has three distinct advantages over the parent: it matures some three weeks earlier - which will enable it to reach the seed ripening stage when the dry season arrives; it is shorter-;. protection against being flattened by wind or hail; and it produces a naked (huskless) grain with higher protein content that is easier to both cook and feed to animals.

After the current multiplication phase produces 400 tonnes of barley seeds this year, they will be delivered to demonstration plots of selected farmers in the highlands. They will grow these new seeds together with the previous or parent variety and compare their quality. It will take two to three years to demonstrate true success, after farmers have grown it on many thousands of hectares. But chances look good that the 21st Century may begin with the first cultivable Andean grain and new opportunities for agricultural development.

In the meantime, the University at La Molina is receiving funding from a Peruvian brewery, Malteria Lima, to multiply the mutant variety of barley and to distribute seeds to the selected farmers. Even though UNA-La a Molina 95 has different characteristics than barley used for beer, the brewery sees itself as benefitting from the research down the lines. It reasons that if it is successfully cultivated at high altitude the results could pave the way for development of yet another variety of barley, one that has the characteristics brewers want.

Mutated Rice Gains Ground in China and Myanmar

Nine varieties of early season rice, obtained by induced mutation of locally grown varieties, were officially released and cultivated on 598,100 hectares in five provinces along the Yangtze River in China during 1995.The mutant varieties now cover about 11 percent of the total 5.5 million hectares of rice growing area in these provinces. While performance of each mutant variety varied, yield increases per hectare for nine mutants was on average 440 kilograms higher than for the control varieties, according to data collected during the multi-location trial.

The Chinese National Rice Research Institute estimates that the total yield increase was 263,000 tonnes across the cultivated area. At a market price of US$200 per tonne, the gain to farmers is estimated at over US$50 million. The seed extension process was actively supported by seed companies at the provincial, municipal and county level. Because the seed multiplication programme has been so successfully implemented, an extension area of 990,000 hectares was established for the 1996 growing season. Results again looked promising.

In Myanmar, according to recent information received from the Ministry of Agriculture, the rice mutant "Shwewartun" showed improved yield, grain quality and earliness compared to its parent variety. Over the period 1990 to 1993, the mutant variety was grown on over 810,000 hectares, or 17 percent of the total rice area sown.

Close collaboration with national institutes in both China and Myanmar - made possible through CRPs and TC projects - contributed to the development of these successful mutant varieties. Moreover, the experience gained in these Asian projects is contributing to similar mutation breeding advances in other regions.