Nuclear technology to boost agricultural development in Zambia

To guarantee future crop yields and food security, maize seeds and plants should be protected. PHOTO Supplied.

To guarantee future crop yields and food security, maize seeds and plants should be protected. PHOTO Supplied.

Gamma irradiation technology, according to Rosatom, decontaminates chemicals and pesticides, increasing the shelf life of products.

Zambia’s agriculture sector has been identified as the key to unlocking economic growth as it provides the main support for the country’s rural economy, and nuclear technology is expected to boost agricultural development even more.

Rosatom in a statement today, said that about 48.9 percent of the Zambian population depends on agriculture, primarily through smallholder production, for their livelihoods and employment. The sector was estimated to contribute 4.8 percent to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in 2017.

“The country is uniquely endowed with resources rich for agricultural development, which if harnessed fully, would enable the country to become the breadbasket of the East and Southern African region.

“Although Zambia recently has been recording surpluses in staple food production, its potential for agricultural growth is insecure. Maize – Zambia’s primary staple crop on which rely more than 90 percent of smallholders – is under attack from fall army worms,” Rosatom said

Director of Nuclear Research Reactors at Rosatom Overseas, Dmitri Vysotski, said: “To guarantee future crop yields and food security, maize seeds and plants should be protected. In order to prevent these disastrous effects from insects, there are traditional and unconventional methods. Farmers can use huge amounts of pesticides, which have a negative impact on the environment and result in the development of resistance against pesticides among various insect species. Alternatively, there is an option of using nuclear science to deal with these harmful pests, while not affecting soil and environment.”

The Centre of Nuclear Science and Technology (CNST) which is to be built in the next five years in Chongwe in rural Lusaka, will offer a number of solutions to increase productivity in agriculture, ensure food security and prolong product shelf life. The irradiation center, an integral part of CNST, is a multipurpose facility for gamma irradiation.

This technology, according to Rosatom, decontaminates chemicals and pesticides, increasing the shelf life of products with no harm to food and storage. Radiation technology is also effective while combatting the zika virus. Sterilised in the lab, mosquitoes lose fertility, which decreases their population.

“There is an example from South Africa that shows how nuclear technology has saved the South African’s Western Cape orange industry, which was about to collapse. The application of nuclear technology helped local farmers to put an end to infestation that damaged the environment, seriously affecting the citrus industry that employed 10 percent of South African agricultural labour force,” Rosatom said

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

This technique can suppress and in some cases, eradicate populations of insect pests. It is also among the most environmentally friendly control tactics available and is 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 foodborne diseases. According to the World Health Organisation, each year around 600 million people suffer from consuming contaminated food. Africa has the highest level of foodborne diseases with more than 90 million people falling ill and around 130,000 dying each year,” said Rosatom.

Conscious of the benefits that nuclear technology can bring to the well-being of ordinary citizens, more countries in Africa are considering raising nuclear capacities.

African News Agency (ANA)

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