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World Food Needs Set the Table in Vienna

In Hangzhou, China, the Institute of Nuclear Agricultural Sciences at Zhejiang University is a centre for research of new crop varieties contributing to the country's food needs. (Photo: L. Wedekind/IAEA).

With concerns mounting over issues of food supply, scientists known as plant breeders are accelerating the search for higher yielding crops. They met this week at the IAEA in Vienna to share the latest results from field trials in countries from Asia to Africa to the Americas.

Through radiation technology, the IAEA, Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, and other partners are striving to produce plant and crop varieties that are resistant to disease, adaptable to difficult growing conditions, and are sturdier in the face of other environmental challenges.

Organized by the Joint FAO/IAEA Division, the International Symposium on Induced Mutations in Plants took place from 12-15 August. The Symposium was a four-day meeting which brought together over 600 scientists, in what was termed the most important gathering in the mutation induction field in over a decade. The event´s timeliness was noted by IAEA Deputy Director General Werner Burkart, who is Head of the Department of Nuclear Sciences and Applications.

"At a time when the world is facing a food and energy crisis of unprecedented proportions, plant mutation breeding can be a catalyst in developing improved, higher yield, saline resistant, sturdier crop varieties," said Mr. Burkart, in his opening address.

Since mutation induction in plants began over 80 years ago, nearly 3000 varieties from more than 170 different plant species have been introduced, resulting in higher nutritional content, more successful agricultural output, and positive economic impact. Among the many successes of induced mutation is production of wheat in drought-prone parts of Africa, growing of barley in the high Andes mountains of Peru, and boosting of rice production in Vietnam.

"We discussed methods, both old and new, that these proven technologies can be used to enhance the adaptability of crops to factors such as climate change and other variabilities," said Liang Qu, Director of the Joint FAO/IAEA Division. During the time of preparing the symposium, the food price crisis occurred, along with increasing concerns related to climate change and biofuels.

Throughout the week, scientists from more than 40 countries exchanged information on agriculture conditions worldwide, while building contacts for future collaboration. Poster sessions were also held, along with numerous oral presentations and case studies presented by scientists, agricultural specialists, and researchers.

"Scientists in plant breeding are very dedicated to what they do, and the week´s sessions can help arm them with greater tools and knowledge for tackling the challenges of food security," said Pierre Lagoda, Head of the IAEA´s Plant Breeding and Genetics Section.

Last update: 27 Jul 2017

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