Grow­ing agri­cul­ture through nuclear so­lu­tions

Em­ploy­ing the pest ster­il­iza­tion tech­nique, Tan­za­nia's Zanz­ibar de­clared it­self tsetse-free in 1997.

Financial Nigeria Magazine - - Contents - By Thuo Njoroge Daniel Thuo Njoroge Daniel is an En­ergy Ex­pert, Eco­nomics & Pol­icy Anal­y­sis lec­turer at Karatina Univer­sity School of Busi­ness, Kenya. He is also the En­gage­ment Lead for the Ex­trac­tive Hub in Kenya. buttin­jorob80@gmail.com

We live in an age of tech­no­log­i­cal rev­o­lu­tions; and break­throughs in tech­nol­ogy are driv­ing pro­duc­tiv­ity and de­vel­op­ment out­comes in mul­ti­ple sec­tors. Across Africa, tech­no­log­i­cal in­no­va­tions are be­ing suc­cess­fully de­ployed in agri­cul­ture.

In Benin Repub­lic, 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 has brought about im­pres­sive re­sults. Lo­cal famers have seen their crop yields triple or quadru­ple. This is a fan­tas­tic de­vel­op­ment for a coun­try that is highly de­pen­dent on soy­bean ex­ports.

The chair­man of the Nige­rian Se­nate Com­mit­tee on Sci­ence and Tech­nol­ogy, Prof. Ajayi Bo­rof­fice, ar­gues that the syn­ergy be­tween agri­cul­ture and tech­nol­ogy can cer­tainly have a pos­i­tive ef­fect on the econ­omy.

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 the 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 in­sect pest con­trol that uses ion­iz­ing ra­di­a­tion to ster­il­ize pests that are masspro­duced 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 off­springs. In the few cases when ster­il­ized males and wild fe­males do have an off­spring, it is al­ways a com­pletely ster­ile male.

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 a 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, more than 90 mil­lion peo­ple fall ill and roughly 130,000 die from food­borne dis­eases each year in Africa.

Im­ple­men­ta­tion of nuclear tech­nolo­gies in agri­cul­ture would be ben­e­fi­cial in Africa. That's why Nige­ria, which al­ready has one nuclear sci­ence fa­cil­ity able to op­er­ate in six dif­fer­ent modes, plans to boost the eco­nomic and sci­en­tific po­ten­tials of nuclear tech­nol­ogy in the coun­try.

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 the chal­lenge of post-har­vest loss, which makes it dif­fi­cult to ben­e­fi­ci­ate the agri­cul­ture sec­tor. Hence the need to ad­vance the nuclear agenda to ad­dress en­ergy gaps and thus sub­stan­tially in­crease pro­duc­tiv­ity in the en­tire food value chain.

For ex­am­ple, through the pro­vi­sion of af­ford­able sus­tain­able en­ergy, it would be pos­si­ble to have ce­re­als, legumes and fish dried and treated to re­duce mois­ture con­tent, and thus in­crease their shelve life. With this, more food would be avail­able dur­ing drought.

Con­scious of the ben­e­fits that nuclear tech­nolo­gies can bring to the well­be­ing of their cit­i­zens, more emerg­ing African coun­tries are con­sid­er­ing broad­en­ing their nuclear ca­pac­i­ties. Zam­bia is push­ing for­ward with nuclear sci­ence. The coun­try is plan­ning to build a nuclear univer­sity as well as 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.

In­sect pests

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