FAO and IAEA expand cooperation on peaceful nuclear technologies for agricultural systems

Vienna – Peaceful applications of nuclear science and technology can contribute to plant and animal breeding, reduce soil erosion, and improve pest control and water management, all of which are critical to creating a better world with sustainable agriculture and food security for all. .

Concrete examples range from saving water for IDPs in Nigeria to helping countries like Algeria, Cameroon and Vietnam grow cucumbers, implementing phytosanitary standards, taking advantage of their comparative advantages and exporting high-value fruits.

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the International Atomic Energy Association (IAEA) therefore redouble their commitment to significantly improve the cooperation that has achieved remarkable results over the past six decades.

The two United Nations agencies today agreed to work more closely together as FAO Director-General QU Dongyu and IAEA Director-General Rafael Mariano Grossi signed a Memorandum of Understanding to use innovative research and development to provide improved and effective support to member states and millions of people. they agreed. of people.

“Let’s work together to make full use of the Joint Center for the benefit of farmers and consumers,” said Gu, noting that it is a very successful leading example of UN inter-agency cooperation and that FAO is mobilizing its members to offer further support. .

“The next step is to work together to make our Members more aware of our partnership and the services we provide to them,” he said.

The agreement paves the way for the joint development of a road map towards a stronger strategic partnership, including the joint mobilization of resources and the implementation of activities related to the marine environment, physical-chemical sciences and human health.

Joint Center

FAO and the IAEA have been close partners since 1964, operating laboratories together. “Cooperation has intensified since 2007, since then the unit’s staff has quadrupled and institutional improvement has been undertaken with the establishment of a Joint FAO/IAEA in 2021. Center for Nuclear Techniques in Food and Agriculture,” said Gu Liang, who headed the Center for the past 17 years. Based in Vienna, the Center is “a unique institution in the UN system that boasts advanced laboratories and carries out sophisticated research and development activities.”

An example of this is the use of Cosmic Ray Neutron Sensors to monitor soil moisture in the landscape, contributing to improved soil management and optimized climate-friendly food and agricultural products. The sensors can detect moisture ten centimeters below the surface, bridging the gap between point-based soil moisture readings and the large-scale data provided by remote sensing.

Vaccines are another important business area. The IAEA helped develop a vaccine for the FAO-led campaign, rinderpest, one of only two, the other being the elimination of the deadly virus smallpox. Today, the Center develops irradiated vaccines for cattle in Ethiopia, which exports more than one million cattle annually, which can inactivate pathogenic microorganisms in livestock to protect animals from disease as well as the risk of inoculation with a live microorganism.

Another major initiative of the Joint Center is to use the plant microbiome of bananas and plantains to develop ways to combat Fusarium wilt, a major threat to banana production, which provides income to over 400 million people.

Because atoms have highly specific signatures, their isotopic analysis can help determine the origin of unwanted environmental vectors. After numerous successful projects targeting soil erosion, the Center is now investigating microplastics using nuclear techniques. This can significantly support efforts to reduce plastic pollution on land and sea, which has a significant negative impact on the climate and environment.

Other interesting topics where nuclear technologies can contribute are in the areas of food safety, phytosanitary standards required for trade, and traceability of specific products to combat food adulteration.

The Joint Center, as it is better known, is a vanguard player in the growing use of Sterile Insect Technology, where millions of radiation-sterilized Mediterranean fruit flies and other pests are released to reduce wild populations of potentially devastating pests. access to the fruit and vegetable market.

Laboratories

Gu and Grossi, together with senior officials from both FAO and IAEA, will lead the Joint Center’s laboratories – respectively Plant Breeding and Genetics, Insect Pest Management, Food Safety and Control, Soil and Water Supply and Plant Nutrition, Animal Production and Health – Market the next in Seibersdorf, Austria.

Gu stressed that the Joint Center’s program and activities are “demand-based and problem-oriented” and focus on transferring technologies to member states to meet real, practical needs. “The center’s technological advances impact the entire supply chain, from farmers and producers to consumers, from the lab to the field to the kitchen,” he said.

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