The Agency's food and agriculture programme assists Member States in improving food security through sustainable and environmentally friendly agricultural development. It does so by enhancing their capacity to use nuclear methods across a wide range of commodities and agroecological zones, with emphasis on improving crop and livestock productivity, food safety and food quality. The programme is operated jointly with FAO and implemented by the Joint FAO/IAEA Division of Nuclear Techniques in Food and Agriculture, and by the FAO/IAEA Agriculture and Biotechnology Laboratory at Seibersdorf.
Restructuring within FAO resulted in the upgrading of joint activities to the status of a programme within FAO's Agriculture Department. This offered the opportunity for strengthening the complementarity and co-ordination of work with other FAO divisions and, together with the Agency's Programme Performance Assessment System (PPAS), provided focused strategy, objective and task setting within each subprogramme. In addition, it permitted the development of time-frames and milestones for the attainment of specific objectives.
A feature of the work in 1995 was the increasing involvement of modern biotechnologies, such as nuclear based molecular methods, in vitro culture techniques and monoclonal antibodies. The value of including these methods in sterile insect technique (SIT) approaches to integrated pest management, mutation plant breeding programmes and diagnostic tests for animal diseases is already clear from the successes achieved in Mediterranean fruit fly and rinderpest control and eradication activities. The continued transfer of these methods over the past year and their expanded role in training, analytical and research support activities at the Agency's Laboratory are helping to improve knowledge and the capacity in Member States to tackle important issues, and represent an important investment towards future achievements.
In Kenya, 22 provenances of Acacia, Prosopis and Casuarina were screened for drought tolerance in a semi-arid site in Machakos. The results showed significant differences in water use efficiency and dry matter yield. For example, Acacias from the Middle East and neighbouring north eastern African countries had greater drought resistance than those from other regions of Africa, while provenances from Costa Rica and Senegal were the best for Prosopis and Casuarina. An interesting feature demonstrated in this programme was that carbon-13 isotope discrimination is closely correlated with water use efficiency and the dry matter yield of a crop. This technique can thus be used in future research for the rapid screening of crop and tree species for high water use efficiency and high yield.
Another CRP completed in 1995 identified the growth stages of
maize, wheat and cotton that are more resistant to drought. It
was shown that 'water stress' during certain growth stages of
crops may not necessarily result in significant yield reductions.
For example, research in Brazil, Egypt and Romania showed that
cutting down irrigation at the vegetative stage did not reduce
the yield of maize. In China and Morocco, wheat produced the same
yields even when irrigation was reduced at tillering or at
maturity. These results have important implications for
increasing the efficiency of water use in crop production, since
by reserving water which would otherwise be used during the more
drought resistant stages, optimum crop growth and yield can still
be obtained with minimum water inputs.
Plant Breeding and Genetics
Significant results were achieved during 1995 in the use of
radiation induced mutants for increasing crop production. In the
Altiplano of Peru, small farmer fields are located at more than
3600 m above sea level. This is a very stress-prone area
characterized by short vegetation periods, droughts and morning
frosts. Agency supported efforts by the National University of
Agriculture, La Molina, to improve barley, which is the main crop
that is grown there, made use of mutation techniques. A high
yielding, 'naked' grain and extremely early mutant was selected
from gamma ray irradiated seeds. This mutant was officially
released as a new barley variety in May 1995 and its use is
foreseen in large scale commercial production. In addition to
improved adaptability, this variety's naked grains are very well
accepted by consumers for preparing the traditional foods of the
In China, work on radiation induced mutations has been supported for many years through various FAO/IAEA CRPs. With assistance provided in 1995 through a technical co-operation project, rice breeders from the China National Rice Research Institute and Zhejiang Agricultural University started to grow rice mutant varieties in five provinces along the Yangtze River - the main rice growing areas in China. In total, nearly 600 000 hectares of early season rice were cultivated with mutant varieties, which gave an increase in rice production of about 263 000 tonnes over the best varieties grown in certain provinces. The total gain to farmers was estimated at $50 million, calculated on the basis of the official price of rice on the international market.
African farmers will soon benefit from new mutants of sorghum, African rice and cassava which were developed through a recently completed FAO/IAEA CRP supported by the Government of Italy. For example, in Mali several stable mutants of sorghum were developed with long panicles and better grain and drought tolerance, along with white grain mutants of African rice (white grained varieties have a higher market value than the normal red grain types).
The use of in vitro culture techniques for the improvement of vegetatively propagated crops in combination with radiation induced mutations has proved to be of immense value for producing the desired variation and in enhancing the selection of mutants in a disease-free condition. In Ghana, cassava mutants were selected for improved cooking quality and production of the traditional native dish 'fufu'. These mutants have larger starch granules, higher tuber yields and greater resistance to diseases.
At an FAO/IAEA international symposium on the use of induced
mutations and molecular techniques for crop improvement, held in
Vienna in June, there was confirmation that radiation induced
mutations followed by the appropriate selection procedures have
been instrumental in improving the performance of germplasm
throughout the world, since by 1995 nearly 1800 mutant varieties
had been officially released in 52 countries. In fact, mutant
induction and the understanding of mutations at the molecular
level and in biochemical terms are now the basis of much present
day research in plant breeding and genetics. As supporting tools
for conventional breeding, molecular techniques therefore have
the potential to assist in increasing productivity, improving
quality and developing new raw materials for industry.
Animal Production and Health
The results of a recently completed CRP involving 13 Latin
American countries documented the benefits to milk production and
growth of supplementing cattle diets with a variety of
non-traditional sources of protein, such as leguminous trees,
poultry manure and urea-molasses blocks; similar information was
obtained in Asia and Africa. For example, village based systems
were developed in Indonesia to produce urea-molasses blocks which
were distributed to farmers and resulted in weight gains of up to
0.5 kg per week in fattening animals and two to three litres per
week in dairy cows. Similar gains were made in Sudan through
feeding a supplement derived from the residues of sorghum and
groundnuts, while even greater improvements were made in Morocco
through the supplementation of silage with fish waste and
Support was given to Member States in Africa and Asia for serological monitoring of mass vaccination campaigns against rinderpest using an FAO/IAEA immunoassay test for rinderpest antibodies. This testing has shown that vaccination cover has produced sufficiently high levels of immunity in the national herds of most countries to warrant cessation of mass vaccination. This will lead to annual savings of several hundred million dollars. These countries will now proceed along an agreed pathway towards international declaration of freedom from disease, which will involve surveillance backed up by immunoassay and molecular based diagnostic tests to identify and stamp out the remaining few areas where the virus has survived. The tests were transferred to national veterinary laboratories in 1995 to assist in the task of final eradication.
Trypanosomiasis control and eradication programmes were monitored in 14 African countries using an enzyme linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) test developed by the International Livestock Research Institute and at the FAO/IAEA Laboratory at Seibersdorf. On the island of Zanzibar, United Republic of Tanzania, the use of this assay has been crucial in supporting the SIT based tsetse eradication project. The assay provides a sensitive indicator of the presence of trypanosomes in the blood of cattle in the sterile fly release area, and hence of the presence of tsetse flies which, at low density, cannot be detected by present trapping methods.
Pilot quality assurance programmes were initiated by the FAO/IAEA
Laboratory at Seibersdorf in 1995 to monitor the reliability of
the results obtained through the use of radioimmunoassay (RIA)
and ELISA tests provided to Member States. A high level of
competence was shown by most participating laboratories.
Insect and Pest Control
Substantial progress was made in the eradication of the tsetse
fly from the island of Zanzibar. Activities within a CRP and
research at the FAO/IAEA Laboratory at Seibersdorf to improve the
sterile tsetse fly rearing system, as well as the completion of
the second phase of the refurbishment of the Tanga mass rearing
facility on the Tanzanian mainland, led to an increase in the fly
colony from only 40 000 at the beginning of the year to over 400
000 at the end of 1995. In addition, the laboratory at
Seibersdorf continued monthly shipments of pupae in support of
the project. These intensified releases of sterile flies over the
southern part of the island, where the highest tsetse fly
populations are located, had the effect of drastically increasing
the sterile to wild fly ratio to over 200:1. Most wild females
trapped now show signs of induced sterility and the wild
population is rapidly disappearing. Sterile fly releases are
being extended to the central part of the island and, when
refurbishment of the third insectary of the Tanga facility is
completed, releases of sterile flies can be expected to cover the
An SIT Mediterranean fruit fly (medfly) eradication project in Chile culminated in the eradication of this pest from that country, with benefits to the economy estimated at $500 million per year. Although the southern and central regions of Chile were already free of fruit flies and the country had developed a very successful fruit export industry, its produce was still being restricted from certain markets because of a fear of outbreaks as a result of the presence of the medfly in the Arica region of northern Chile. After a decade of unsuccessful attempts to eradicate the fly using insecticides in this region, the Chilean Agricultural Service requested technical support from FAO and the Agency to establish an SIT eradication programme. As a consequence, a medfly mass rearing facility with a production capacity of approximately 60 million sterile flies per week was completed in 1993, when sterile fly releases were initiated. No wild medflies have been detected in the Arica region since the first half of 1995. In addition, the pest has been suppressed in Tacna, the southernmost valley of Peru. Future collaboration within an expanded FAO/IAEA bi-national Chile-Peru project foresees enlarging the eradication and control activities to other fruit producing valleys in southern Peru.
The year also saw the introduction of genetic sexing strains into
large mass rearing facilities for SIT control of the medfly. This
represents significant progress in the use of these strains,
which were developed at the FAO/IAEA Laboratory at Seibersdorf
over the last ten years. The white pupal colour sexing strain was
introduced into the eradication programme in Argentina, with
large scale releases planned for early 1996. Support activities
for a medfly SIT programme in Guatemala also gathered momentum
with the supply of the temperature sensitive genetic sexing
Agrochemicals and Residues
Assistance continued to be provided to regions where agriculture
has been affected by radionuclide contamination from the
Chernobyl accident. In Belarus, research has shown that rapeseed
oil essentially free of caesium-137 can be produced on land
contaminated to a level of 0.5-1.5 TBq/km2. Some 10
were sown with rapeseed in 1995 to produce oil for lubricant
manufacture and it is intended to increase the area by three to
four times in 1996. This will provide a valuable cash crop for
areas where the production of food with acceptable levels of
radionuclides is uncertain. In Ukraine, assistance was given to
improve the facilities for monitoring radionuclide contamination
at a milk canning factory.
Experimental protocols for studying the effects of pesticides in
non-target organisms in tropical agroecosystems, developed at the
FAO/IAEA Laboratory at Seibersdorf and the Swedish University of
Agricultural Sciences and funded by SIDA, were validated through
a CRP involving African research institutes. The focus of efforts
was on the insecticides lindane and endosulfan which are the two
most commonly used organochlorine compounds. Both were shown to
dissipate much faster in hot, moist tropical environments than in
temperate conditions and it was probably for this reason that
there was no evidence of serious environmental impacts resulting
from their use (e.g. on natural enemies of pests). Soil organic
matter breakdown was reduced, but this was not likely to
influence long term soil fertility. These results are highly
relevant for pesticide regulatory authorities in the
participating countries who normally must depend on information
generated in Europe or North America which may not be appropriate
to African conditions.
Through a seminar convened by the International Consultative
Group on Food Irradiation (ICGFI) and the Secretariat of the
Association for Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), a unified
position was recommended to individual ASEAN governments for
consideration regarding the regulation of food irradiation and
acceptance of this technology to overcome trade problems in the
Among the tasks of a workshop convened by the ICGFI, with the endorsement of the World Trade Organization, was clarification of the implications of the trade in irradiated food, the various provisions of the Agreements on the Application of Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures (SPS) and the Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT), adopted during the GATT Uruguay Round. On the basis of earlier recommendations by the ICGFI, the United States Department of Agriculture announced in 1995 that it will issue a new regulation to take effect in 1996 permitting irradiation as a quarantine treatment of fresh fruits and vegetables against major fruit fly species without a restriction on host commodities. Such a regulation should facilitate wider international trade in irradiated fruits and vegetables.
Results from a recently completed CRP showed that if irradiation is combined with other processes (e.g. low pH, low water activity, and a modified atmosphere), the radiation dose can be reduced and significant improvements made to the safety and quality of treated products. In addition to individual food items (e.g. fruits, vegetables, meat, and seafood), composite foods such as sausages, kebab and prepared meals also benefited significantly from the combined treatment. In some instances, combined treatment resulted in shelf stable products which were not only highly palatable but had modest energy requirements for production, storage and distribution.