Nuclear Technology To Help Small Farmers

IAEA General Conference

Director General Yukiya Amano during the closing session of the 2012 IAEA Scientific Forum. (Photo: D. Calma/IAEA)

Everyone should have hope for the future, and hunger reduces that hope.

This was Director General Yukiya Amano's answer when asked why food was chosen as the theme for this year's Scientific Forum, an event held each year on the margins of the IAEA General Conference. As someone who has experienced hunger in his lifetime, Mr. Amano said the issues of food availability and food safety are close to his heart.

Food availability, abundance and safety are under threat. By 2050 for example, global production of safe and nutritious food must increase by 70% to feed the world's growing population.

The 2012 IAEA Scientific Forum on Food for the Future: Meeting the Challenges with Nuclear Applications concluded on Wednesday, 19 September, following two days of presentations and discussions from scientists and experts from around the world and from a variety of organizations.

Panelists, presenters and attendees discussed increasing food production, protecting food from animal and plant diseases, as well as from animal and plant pests, and enhancing food quality and safety with irradiation and through contamination control.

Attendees proposed a number of areas for further action, in particular continued research and development by the IAEA, other international organizations, and national governments.

Many stressed the intimate connections between small farmers' ability to produce enough food and chronic poverty.

Smallholder farmers produce 80% of the food eaten in developing countries - both livestock products and grain. But as populations rise, farmers will have to deliver considerably more food despite the effects of climate change. So small farmers need access to scientifically proven methods of increasing productivity. Nuclear techniques are not only able to evaluate traditional and new farming methods, but are also invaluable in fighting insect pests, managing plant and animal disease. They are essential in improving breeding and reproduction. They are also used to ensure food safety and to extend the storage life of harvests and food.

Therefore presenters highlighted the urgent need for political commitment from national governments to address food scarcity and food safety through the integration of nuclear and non-nuclear technologies.

Last update: 2 November 2014