NUCLEAR TECHNOLOGIES TO BOOST AGRICULTURAL SECTOR IN ZAMBIA

In Zambia the agricultural sector continues to be a pillar of economic development and contributes more than 30% of country’s non-traditional exports, e.g. other than copper and cobalt.
The country recognizes agriculture as one of the key priority sectors in achieving sustainable economic growth and diversification away from copper mining.
The Zambian agricultural sector provides for an estimated 80 percent of the country’s food needs, with maize playing a predominant role.
In recent years, Zambia has been experiencing lower crop harvests due to climate change and severe droughts, which has which has drastically pushed domestic prices up on important crops. Shifts in climate change have forced people to sell livestock, and migrate in search of well irrigated lands to cultivate crops. Conventional methods of land preparation and cropping practices have contributed to soil degradation and hindered efforts to increase agricultural production beyond subsistence levels in Zambia.
In order to prevent these disastrous effects from worsening and to stabilize maize production in the country and in the region, local scientists and farmers came up with an elaborate plan to cultivate maize and other crop varieties which would be tolerant to drought and a lack of nitrogen in the soil – which is the main prerequisite for successful growth.  
The plan was to use nuclear techniques to make crops more resistant to external factor.
To make this ambitious plan feasible, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and other international partners helped Zambian farmers by providing specialized technologies and assistance to local laboratories.
The results of this strategy were nothing less than spectacular – nuclear technologies made it possible to increase crop productivity and at the same time reduce the negative environmental effects of other more commonly known agricultural practices. In 2015-2016 Zambia exported around $200 million worth of maize and maize products. 
These techniques also proved to be of high importance to small and medium subsistence farmers who could not afford special irrigation systems to uphold crop production.
Despite these impressive results, the Zambian maize production sector still has not reached its full capacity. The sector has suffered an invasion of so called ‘army worms’, which have brought about significant losses for Zambian farmers. 
Estimates of crop losses to the insects vary, but remain significant. Despite the use of general insecticides, losses to the pest average around10% globally and often notably higher in developing countries. One approach to reducing insect depredation in agriculture is to use genetically-modified crops, so that far less insecticide is needed. Another approach is to “sterilize” the insects, rendering them infertile and unable to reproduce.
Radiation is used to control insect populations via the Sterile Insect Technique (SIT). This involves rearing large populations of insects that are sterilized through irradiation (gamma or X-rays), and introducing them into natural populations. The SIT technique is environmentally-friendly, and has proved an effective means of pest management even where mass application of pesticides have previously failed. 
The IAEA and its Member States alsoassist  developing countries implement modern and competitive plant breeding programmes using radiation induced mutation and efficiency enhancing bio- and molecular technologies. Efforts focus on improving yield and quality, by enhancing the diversification and adaptability of crops for domestic use as well as for export markets, thus contributing to income generation and socioeconomic development.
In agriculture, nuclear technologies and isotopes have helped breedmany new, specialized and more resilientcrop varieties all over theworld.
Agricultural researchers also use radiation to:
Develop hundreds of varieties of hardier, more disease-resistant crops
Improve soil quality of farm lands
Eliminate fruit and crop pests, etc.

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