Insect pests can be controlled using the sterile insect technique (SIT). In SIT, male insects are first raised in the lab and then gamma radiation is used to make them sterile, so they cannot reproduce when released into the environment.

The technique is being used successfully to combat the tsetse fly, the source of human sleeping sickness and the livestock disease nagana, in sub-Saharan Africa. SIT has also been used to control the medfly, a threat to some 250 species of fruit and vegetables.

As a result, the medfly has been eradicated from Mexico and Chile, and from parts of Guatemala and parts of the United States. The programme is now being expanded into Argentina, Southern Peru, and the Middle East.

Radiation can be used to create subtle genetic changes in plants.

The IAEA is at the forefront of this technology and has been successful in making commercial crops more resistant to disease or drought according to local conditions. A wide range of improved crop varieties, such as rice, wheat, banana, potato, yam and soya bean have been developed.

Agriculture accounts for the largest amounts of freshwater used in the world. In the face of growing demand for water worldwide, the efficient use of water in agriculture is a high priority. A method called fertigation can reduce wastage of water by supplying both water and nutrients (fertilizer) directly to the root zone of crops, maximizing efficiency.

With assistance from the IAEA, eight West Asian countries participated in a five-year regional project, where nuclear techniques were used to evaluate the effectiveness of fertigation for a variety of annual crops.

Food and Agriculture

Hand in hand with good nutrition and health is the availability of nutritious and affordable food. Although the climate in the poorest regions of the world is generally favourable to growing food, soil conditions, insect pests, and lack of water can severely affect crop yields. Jointly with the Food and Agriculture Organization, the IAEA supports the use of nuclear technology in developing countries to increase food production by combating insect pests, by improving crop varieties used, and by improving irrigation practices.

Photo Credits:
PhotoDisc; P. Gomes/IAEA; K. Gaggl/IAEA;
T. Darwish/IAEA; PhotoDisc.

To learn more about how nuclear science and technology are contributing to sustainable development, visit the IAEA’s WorldAtom website

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