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Invest in Nuclear Science and Technology for Africa’s Development Needs, FAO–IAEA Meeting Hears

A joint IAEA–FAO meeting with the African groups based in Vienna

Almost 200 diplomats attended a joint IAEA–FAO meeting with the African groups based in Vienna and Rome, held on 11 May 2023 at the IAEA Headquarters in Vienna. (Photo: D. Calma/IAEA)

Nuclear techniques have already delivered innovations in the field of food security in Africa, but much more can be achieved by investing in science and technology and in capacity building, speakers emphasized at a joint meeting of the IAEA and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) in Vienna on Thursday.

Vital areas such as soil and water management, crop breeding, animal production and health, insect pest control, and food safety and control are fields that the two organizations have been helping countries with, delivering effective and safe nuclear technologies, since the establishment of the Joint FAO/IAEA Centre of Nuclear Techniques in Food and Agriculture in 1964.

Around 200 diplomats from Permanent Missions of African states in Vienna and in Rome, as well as representatives of the African Union and Ambassadors of donor countries attended the event, held at the IAEA Headquarters.

“Building capacity and providing technical assistance, the Joint Centre can help us address the challenges in climate change, draught, productivity, food insecurity, soil degradation, pests and diseases,” said Ambassador Nosipho Nausca-Jean Jezile, Permanent Representative of the Republic of South Africa to FAO and Chair of the African Group based in Rome.

The Global Report on Food Crises - 2022 lays out that at least one in five Africans goes to bed hungry. An estimated 140 million people in Africa face acute food insecurity. On the other hand, Africa has unique potential: agriculture accounts for 32% of Africa's gross domestic product (GDP) and the sector accounts for 70% of all employment. Over two-thirds of the African population is below the age of 30, which can pose challenges but can also offer huge opportunities. The continent has over 600 million hectares of arable land, which is roughly 60% of the world’s total uncultivated arable land.

IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi highlighted the unique nature of the long-standing IAEA–FAO partnership. “We are the only two institutions in the UN common system that work organically together,” he said. “With the upgrading of our joint laboratories in Seibersdorf, we are increasing our impact and we will be more efficient in what we do to contribute to global food security and sustainable agriculture development.” He invited the African Ambassadors in Rome to come and visit IAEA laboratories in Seibersdorf “to see how we do the science that underpin our projects in Africa and elsewhere.”

FAO Director-General Qu Dongyu said that science, technology and innovation could help the world address the daunting figures of hunger and food insecurity in Africa. Alone in 2022 in West Africa, he said, “10 national agricultural research institutions have benefited from the Joint FAO/IAEA Centre’s global network of almost 400 research institutes and experimental stations.”

Some of the FAO–IAEA success stories in Africa, presented by Najat Mokhtar, IAEA Deputy Director General and Head of the Department of Nuclear Sciences and Applications, included: how using nuclear technology in soil and water management helps women farmers in Sudan move out of poverty; how a nuclear technique helped save the orange industry in Western Cape, South Africa; how cassava brown streak disease was tackled in Uganda with nuclear techniques; how stable isotope techniques helped Benin’s beekeepers to export honey to EU market; how Cameroon's veterinary authorities fought off ruminant disease using nuclear derived techniques.

Discussion at the event also covered scaling up the application of nuclear technologies in food and agriculture. Enhancing governments’ commitments, integrating nuclear technology as part of national food and agriculture programmes, investing in research and development and capacity building were mentioned as some of the actions to help overcome the impediments and challenges.

“Now it’s action time,” said Ambassador Philbert Abaka Johnson, Permanent Representative of Ghana to the IAEA and Chair of African Group based in Vienna. “No one will do it for us. The IAEA and the FAO can do that much, but the change depends on us.” He added that Africa’s governments can do much more in investing in science and technology for young Africans. “We must increase coordination in both international and national levels, involving all stakeholders, so that we can guide the wider international community to help achieve goals in dealing with malnutrition and food insecurity.”

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