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IAEA Support Helps to Develop Climate-Resistant, Economically-Viable Crops in Latin America and Caribbean

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Counterparts to the technical cooperation project, as well as members of the project team, attended the regional symposium. (Photo:  J. Garofalo/INIAP)

New varieties of rice, tomato, quinoa and potato have been developed, with IAEA technical support and in partnership with the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) of United Nations, which could boost crop production and improve food security in Latin America and the Caribbean. Developed using mutation breeding techniques, these crops have improved characteristics, including pesticide- and disease-resistances.

Mutation breeding techniques rely on radiation to safely accelerate the natural process of mutation, leading to the development of new mutant lines and allowing experts to select new crop varieties that respond to local needs. “The team of researchers assembled through this project has managed to develop, through nuclear techniques, a herbicide-resistant line of rice in Brazil and six improved mutant lines, including tomato [Cuba], quinoa [Peru] and potato [Bolivia], which are in the process of registration,” said Héctor David Nakayama, a researcher at the Multidisciplinary Centre for Technological Research in Paraguay.

Launched in 2016, the regional technical cooperation project[1] harnesses technologies to strengthen food production systems to enhance productivity, resistance to stresses and resilience to climate change. Participating countries included Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Jamaica, Mexico, Nicaragua, Paraguay, Peru and Venezuela. The IAEA, through the Joint FAO/IAEA Programme of Nuclear Techniques in Food and Agriculture, has been assisting Member States in the use of nuclear and related technologies to develop new varieties of plants for decades.

The opening ceremony of the symposium. From left to right: Ramiro Castro (SCAN), Karla Molina (IAEA), Héctor Nakayama (CEMIT-UNA Paraguay), Isabel Morillo (INIAP), Mario Caviedes (USFQ), Luis Rodríguez (INIAP), Kang Jin Cho (KOPIA) and Fatma Sarsu (IAEA). (Photo:  J. Garofalo/INIAP)

To build additional capacities in the use of mutation breeding in the region, several undergraduate, master's and doctoral theses have been supported through the project. A professional network has also been established to bring together scientists and researchers in the field of nuclear technology across the region. This network, the Latin American Network for the Application of Nuclear Technology in Agriculture (ATENA), will contribute to facilitating future knowledge-sharing and capacity building in order to accelerate the implementation of mutation breeding as a solution for food insecurity and as a response to food production systems threatened by climate change.

Additionally, national counterparts, including universities and research institutes, have committed to developing and delivering regional courses, in cooperation with the IAEA. “This will, in turn, enhance knowledge on how to improve crop genetics through mutation induction, with the aim of improving the nutritional quality of mutant varieties and fostering participatory plant breeding,” said Fatma Sarsu, an IAEA Plant Breeder and Geneticist within the Joint FAO/IAEA Division.

The final coordination meeting of the project convened in Quito, Ecuador, in early-March 2020, in conjunction with the Second Latin American Symposium on Nuclear Applications in Agriculture. The symposium was organized by the National Institute for Agricultural Research (INIAP), with support from the IAEA’s TC programme, the University of San Francisco de Quito and the Korea Program on International Agriculture (KOPIA).

More than 220 students, academic researchers, private sector representatives and technical experts from 20 institutions and 17 countries attended the symposium.

[1] RLA5068, ‘Improving Yield and Commercial Potential of Crops of Economic Importance (ARCAL CL)’.

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