• English
  • العربية
  • 中文
  • Français
  • Русский
  • Español

You are here

How Nuclear Technology Helps Sudanese People Cope with Climate Change


The lives of millions of Sudanese people are affected by climate change, but with the help of nuclear and other techniques, scientists are finding ways to adapt to and mitigate its impact. (Photo: N. Jawerth/IAEA)

The impact of climate change on millions of people in Sudan extends from how it deteriorates soil quality where their food grows to its influence on the spread of disease-carrying insects. Increasingly erratic and extreme weather conditions, rainfall and temperatures jeopardize their food and water resources, their health and livelihoods. To find ways to adapt to and mitigate the impact of climate change, scientists in Sudan are now working with the IAEA, in partnership with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), to use nuclear and conventional techniques to improve soil resilience to produce more food crops, optimize agricultural practices and manage insect pests, among others.

“We are facing very high temperatures in winter, unpredictable weather, and the rainy seasons are becoming very short, making water scarcer. This is all because of climate change,” said El Saddig Suliman Mohamed, Director General of the Agricultural Research Cooperation (ARC) in Sudan, which has four ongoing projects with the IAEA and the FAO.  “The work we do to address climate change is made possible in large part because of the IAEA.”

There are several IAEA-supported projects in Sudan that involve nuclear and other techniques to address the diverse impact of climate change. The IAEA, in partnership with the FAO and through its technical cooperation programme, provides equipment, training and technical expertise.

Keep on growing

As more than 80% of people in Sudan practice agriculture and live in rural areas, the new plant varieties bred in the ARC’s Biotechnology and Biosafety Research Center can help farmers continue to grow crops, such as sorghum, wheat and various vegetables, despite increasingly harsh and water-scarce conditions. These varieties are made in part using nuclear techniques. The process involves scientists using radiation on plant seeds, cuttings or leaves to accelerate the natural process of spontaneous mutation. They then mark and cultivate the desired traits to develop plants with specific characteristics. Watch this animation to learn more.

Scientists at the ARC’s Biotechnology and Biosafety Research Center work on new plant varieties that tolerate the increasingly harsh environmental conditions associated with climate change (Photo: N. Jawerth/IAEA)

“Plant breeding is a long and involved process, but we now have very advanced mutant lines of sorghum and wheat plant varieties that have characteristics like drought tolerance and heat tolerance. We are doing the multi-field tests this coming summer,” said Tahani Yousif Elagib, Director of the ARC Biotechnology and Biosafety Research Center that was built and equipped through the IAEA’s technical cooperation programme. “Once these are tested in the field, then we will be ready to distribute them to farmers.”

Rooting around in the ground

Growing plants in any condition requires striking the right balance and amount of soil, water and fertilizer, but as climate change has caused water shortages, erratic temperatures and degrading soil health in Sudan, that balance becomes critical.

“Water, soil, temperature: it’s all a complete package,” said Suliman Mohamed. “Without proper water irrigation, you can’t maximize yields, but on the other side, without using fertilizer right you can’t reach the full potential. Every component without the others is nothing. So we have to look at the whole package.”

Climate-smart agricultural practices allow more food to be grown, while also conserving precious water and soil resources. (Photo: N. Jawerth/IAEA)

Scientists in Sudan are using nuclear techniques to study the atoms in water, soil, plants and fertilizer in local conditions to help farmers maximize the potential of the 20 million hectares of land prepared and used each year in the country. These climate-smart crop management methods allow more food to be grown, while simultaneously helping to sustainably use and protect water and soil resources.

In water-scarce Kassala along the eastern edge of Sudan, a successful IAEA-supported pilot project using drip irrigation watering systems optimized with nuclear techniques increased crop yields by 40% while reducing water waste by more than 60%. Drip irrigation is a low-cost and easy-to-use system for watering crops and distributing fertilizer. After ARC scientists, through support from the Joint FAO/IAEA division, collected precise data on how to effectively manage soil and how much water and fertilizer to add to the drip irrigation system, plants flourished.

Read more about this project and how it is being scaled up to feed communities and local economies, while empowering thousands of women around Sudan.

Setting an example

The United Nations Framework Convention for Climate Change (UNFCCC) has identified this optimized drip irrigation model as effective for sustainable climate change adaptation and mitigation. It is now labelled as a UNFCCC National Adaptation Programme of Action (NAPA) model for use in adapting to and mitigating the impact of climate change worldwide.

UNFCCC identifies models for adapting to and mitigating the symptoms of a changing climate worldwide. The increased occurrence of dust devils is one symptom of climate change in Sudan. (Photo: N. Jawerth/IAEA)

“Every country has a national adaptation programme, and UNFCCC looks for and promotes sustainable strategies and models to help countries everywhere,” said Imad-eldin A Ali Babiker, an Associate Professor and researcher at ARC’s Dry Lands Research Center. “To be sustainable, the model has to be easy to implement, maintain, and profitable for the people using it. That combination is exactly what this drip irrigation package offers.”

A breeding ground for insects

How the climate behaves also affects the presence of insect pests, such as mosquitoes that carry diseases like malaria and yellow fever; the warmer conditions and precipitation changes influence the mating and distribution of insect pests. In Sudan, a correlation has been found between climatic changes and an increase in the number of malaria cases in the northern part of the country. In 2014, there were around 1.2 million malaria cases reported in Sudan, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

Scientists at TMRI prepare food for mosquitoes and sort through pupae as part of the process of using the SIT insect birth control method. (Photo: N. Jawerth/IAEA)

Sudan’s Tropical Medicine Research Institute (TMRI) is working with the IAEA, in partnership with the FAO, to prepare for the world’s first pilot study on how to use the sterile insect technique (SIT), a nuclear-based insect pest birth control method, to control Anopheles mosquitoes which transmit malaria.

Based on successful field experiments, Sudan is building a new rearing facility to carry out further testing and evaluation to increase the capacities and scale of its SIT pilot project. Find out more about malaria, mosquitoes and SIT here.

Last update: 26 Jul 2017

Stay in touch