Nuclear techniques for global food security
The world faces vast food security and nutrition challenges. The initiative Atoms4Food, launched by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) in October 2023, will support countries in using innovative nuclear techniques in enhancing agricultural productivity, reducing food losses, ensuring food safety, improving nutrition and adapting to the challenges of climate change.
Nuclear techniques can be applied to strengthen food security in different ways to strengthen food security. They are used to speed up the natural process of plant mutation to develop crops that better withstand diseases and climatic shifts.
Nuclear and isotopic techniques can assess nutrient use and water use in soil, diagnose and characterise disease pathogens in animals, trace sources of contamination in water and study various forms of malnutrition. The nuclear sterile insect technique targets insect populations, reducing the use of insecticides for both crops and livestock. The irradiation of food can ensure that food is safe from pathogens and increases its shelf-life to aid food security.
Tailor-made research will form the core of this initiative, focusing on the specific needs of countries with concrete innovations and solutions. Through the Atoms4Food initiative, the IAEA and FAO will provide seven assessment services:
- An Assessment Mission to map the specific needs of countries.
- The Crop Variety Improvement Service to build country-specific crop improvement programmes using the nuclear method of plant mutation breeding to create more robust and nutritious crops.
- The Soil and Water Management and Crop Nutrition Service to use the precision of nuclear and isotopic science to gather information on soil fertility, major crops and their average yield, availability of fertiliser and water irrigation systems.
- The Animal Production and Health Service to provide a scientific assessment of the current epidemiological situation of animal diseases, interventions in place for prevention, diagnosis and control, and laboratory and other veterinary service capacities.
- The Insect Pest Control Service to address problems with insect pests that affect agricultural production by using the nuclear-based sterile insect technique.
- The Food Safety and Control Service to make individual assessments of a country’s laboratory capabilities and its ability to conduct surveillance of food hazards.
- The Public Health Nutrition Service to inform impactful nutrition programming using evidence on the nutritional value of foods and diet quality derived from the use of stable isotope techniques.
Based on these country-specific assessments, the IAEA and FAO will harness partnerships and collaboration with other UN Agencies, the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), international financial institutions, development agencies, foundations, industry, national academic, research institutions and other relevant partners to deliver the long-term outcomes of Atoms4Food.
Comprehensive packages will be developed under Atoms4Food for each country, including support for infrastructure and to build capacities in the use of nuclear techniques for food security.