Growing Agriculture through Nuclear Solutions

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by Thuo Njoroge Daniel

We live in an age of technological revolutions and breakthroughs across all sectors of the economy are deeply intertwined and complement each other. For instance, technology and agriculture have proven to go hand in hand, these innovative achievements are successfully being employed in the agricultural sector across Africa.

The examples are rather vivid. In Benin, soybean farmers are able to triple their income using the benefits of nuclear irradiation. The implementation of isotopic techniques also makes it easy to regulate the amount of nitrogen in the soil, which is necessary for healthy plant growth.

Close cooperation between farmers and scientists in the West African country have brought about impressive results. Local farmers have seen their crop yields triple or quadruple, which is a fantastic result for the country, which is highly dependent on soybean exports.

Chairman of the Nigerian Senate Committee of Science and Technology Prof. Ajayi Boroffice argues that the synergy between agriculture and technology can certainly have a positive effect on the economic efficiency of the industry.

Thus, the development of agricultural sector should not be neglected, but should rather have a premium put on it as potentially one of the most vibrant economic sectors.

Another prime example from South Africa shows how the introduction of nuclear technology literally saved the Western Cape’s orange industry, which was once on the brink of extinction.

The application of nuclear science helped local farmers to put an end to an infestation of the false codling moth which severely damaged the local environment, seriously affecting the citrus industry that employed 10% of South Africa’s agricultural labour force.

How it worked. Local farmers used the sterile insect technique which is a form of inspect pest control that uses ionizing radiation to sterilize pests that are mass-produced in special rearing facilities. The sterile insects are released systematically from the ground or by air over pest-infested areas, where they mate with wild populations, which subsequently do not produce offspring. In the few cases when sterilized males and wild females do have an offspring, it is always a completely sterile male.

As a result, this technique can suppress and, in some cases, eventually eradicate populations of insect pests. This technique is among the most environmentally friendly control tactics available, and is usually applied as part of an integrated campaign to control insect populations. Employing this technique Tanzania’s Zanzibar declared itself tsetse-free in 1997.

Food irradiation is life-saving technology, as it eradicates bacteria and parasites that can cause food-borne diseases. According to the World Health Organization (WHO) each year around 600 million people suffer an array of illnesses caused by consuming contaminated food. As estimated by WHO, Africa has the highest level of foodborne diseases – more than 90 million people fall ill and roughly 130 000 die as a result each year.

Against this background it is clear to see the vital importance of implementing nuclear technologies in agriculture.

That’s why Nigeria, which already has a one nuclear science facility able to operate in six different modes, plans to boost its economic and scientific potential.

Nigeria is now planning to build a Center for Nuclear Science and Technologies with the help of Russia’s nuclear corporation Rosatom. The cutting edge technology centre will allow Nigeria to start manufacturing isotopes for widespread use in the diagnostics and treatment of oncological diseases as well as irradiation, which will not only increase the availability of nuclear medicine to the country’s citizens but also preserve the country’s fresh produce.

In Kenya adequate Energy supply would make it possible to address huge challenges of Post-harvest loss currently being experienced, making it difficult to beneficiate the agriculture sector hence the need to advance the Nuclear Agenda to address energy gaps and thus increase productivity in the entire food chain substantially.

For example, through the provision of affordable sustainable energy it would be possible to have crops such as cereals, legumes and fish dried and treated to reduce moisture content hence increase shelve life of this crop which would intern make it possible have these produce available during drought.

Conscious of the benefits that nuclear technologies can bring to the well-being of their citizens, more emerging African countries are considering broadening their nuclear capacities. For instance, Zambia is sky-rocketing forward with regard to nuclear science development, the country is planning to build a nuclear University as well as to install a special radioisotope complex with the help of Russian partners to meet its rising demands in key spheres of social and economic activity.

The use of nuclear technologies is life changing. According to global estimations, some 25-30% of the food harvested in many developing countries is lost as a result of spoilage by microbes and pests. The reduction of spoilage due to infestation and contamination is of the utmost importance, particularly in countries with humid climates.

 

Thuo Njoroge Daniel is an Energy Expert, Economics & Policy Analysis lecturer at Karatina University School of business in Kenya.

He is also the Engagement Lead for the Extractive Hub in Kenya.

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